About 300 supportive, affordable housing units coming to Nanaimo

B.C. and the City of Nanaimo have announced a major initiative to develop about 190 permanent supportive housing units and another 125 affordable rental homes to help ease the years-long housing shortage in that community.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said Monday the partnership “will have a significant impact on our substantial homeless population.”

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The city and the province have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop four supportive housing centres and three affordable housing projects.

It will take some time to get the buildings in place, Krog said.

The supportive housing projects, for those who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless, will replace the temporary modular housing at Labieux Road and Terminal Avenue.

Neighbours of the sites have complained of increasing crime since the sites opened in 2018, after the court ordered a tent city with about 300 campers shut down.

Krog said the new program “is the way to solve much of those concerns and resolve those problems.”

The modular housing will be removed from the Labieux site, while a new facility will be built on Terminal.

The plan is for B.C. Housing to pay construction costs, Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson said. That cost is not yet available.

Affordable housing tenants would have incomes that range from very low up to an annual income of $74,000 for a one-bedroom home, the province said.

Supportive housing buildings would be run under contract with a social agency, she said.

This housing program means “we will be making up a lot of lost ground,” Malcolmson said. “The visibility of homelessness has been stronger over the past few years and particularly the pandemic has revealed who was living close to homelessness and couldn’t couch surf any more through the pandemic.”

A 2018 count found that 23 per cent of the city’s 68,000 renters saw themselves as being at risk of homelessness. It also found 301 people who were homeless, although some believe the actual number is higher.

Those who have been living without homes for some time will be able to move into supportive housing where they can stabilize their health, work on underlying issues, learn about how be good tenants, and can move onto affordable housing.

New permanent supportive housing projects will be vastly different from the temporary units quickly set up when there was little time to get facilities in place as the tent city was being dismantled, Malcolmson said. These will be purpose-built facilities designed to operate in way that will minimize impacts on neighbours.

Community consultation is set to begin this summer.

Chrissy Forsythe, who has a business in Nanaimo, is advocating for a treatment-first remedy.

Rather than housing, the goal should be development of a new treatment centre, able to take in people needing help immediately, she said.

Forsythe said that every morning at 6:45 a.m., a number of government services clean up a temporary campsite near her Wesley Street building.

On Monday morning, she provided a naloxone kit — used to reverse an opioid overdose — to two men and then later checked to make sure they were all right. She woke one man up to make sure he was still alive. That sort of thing is common for her now.

“I want to see these people get help.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

The sites

702 Nicol St.

Owner: The province

Details: About 50 new supportive housing units, plus shelter space, are planned. Development and building permits would be needed.

355 Nicol St.

Owner: The province

Details: About 40 new permanent supportive homes are planned for this site. Services provided to women through the existing Samaritan House would be relocated to a secure area of the Community Services Building, and later to the development at 702 Nicol St.

250 Terminal Ave.

Owner: The province

Details: The modular temporary supportive housing now on site will be removed. Fifty new supportive housing units to be built, plus about 40 units of affordable rental housing. This may require rezoning.

1425 Cranberry Rd.

Owner: City of Nanaimo

Details: An affordable rental project with about 46 units is proposed for the empty lot.

564 5th Ave. (Te’tuxwtun)

Owner: B.C. Housing

Details: This property is part of an existing partnership between B.C. Housing, the City of Nanaimo, the Snuneymuxw First Nation and Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools. About 40 new homes are proposed.

285 Prideaux St.

Owner: City of Nanaimo

Details: The Community Services Building site is being proposed for approximately 50 supportive homes. A portion of the building is being used as a temporary emergency response centre. The city will work with community organizations that lease space in the building to meet their needs elsewhere in the community.

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