Group proposes a simple fix for homelessness: build homes

A Sooke apartment complex for aboriginal youth, a Saanich home and daycare project for single mothers and affordable three-bedroom units for families in Victoria are among the low-income housing developments set to break ground or finish in this year.

“There’s a growing recognition that homelessness and housing are regional issues,” said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin. “It’s great to see they’ve been approached that way and I think we’ve made a real difference.”

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Seven years ago, a mayor’s task force and a coalition of advocates, service providers and governments committed to ending homelessness in the capital region by 2018.

Since 2008, 248 supportive and 458 affordable housing units have been built. This is in addition to ongoing research, programming and advocacy. But there’s still work to be done, the mayor and housing advocates said.

“There’s a significant housing shortage for those with low incomes” said Andrew Wynn-Williams, executive director of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.

“And we now know this is a key driver of homelessness in the region.”

The organization’s research showed only 13 per cent of people who used a shelter in 2012 needed supportive housing. Most needed a place to live they could afford.

The realization led the coalition to expand its mandate to increase supportive as well as affordable housing, at or below market value.

Wynn-Williams estimates the region now needs 250 to 500 more supportive units and 1,500 affordable units added by 2018 to meet its goal. There are currently about 1,500 people on the B.C. Housing waitlist — and some have been on it for years.

Housing projects underway in Victoria will help the coalition reach its goal but several still need funding commitments from the government to move ahead, Wynn-Williams said, hoping to see this reflected in the upcoming B.C. budget announcement on Feb. 18.

“If the political will is there, we can do this,” he said.

The affordable and supportive housing projects set to complete or break ground in 2014:

Hope Centre

M’akola Group of Societies and Society of Saint Vincent de Paul of Vancouver Island

Size: 25 units

Address: 6750 West Coast Rd., Sooke

Budget: $6 million

Who it’s for: At-risk aboriginal youth

Rent: $375 to $675

This $6-million project will provide 25 units of affordable housing for aboriginal youth at risk of homelessness in Sooke. Construction at the West Coast Road site started last fall and it should be resident-ready by summer.

“There’s significant demand for urban youth in this area,”said Kevin Albers, from M’akola Group of Societies. Rents will range from $375 to $675 for bachelor and one-bedroom apartments.

The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul of Vancouver Island will operate a thrift store on the main floor. A social concern office and educational services will also be housed there.

Rosalie's Village

Society of Saint Vincent de Paul of Vancouver Island

Size: 41 units

Address: 4349 West Saanich Rd., Saanich

Budget: $12 million

Who it’s for: Female youth with children and older women at risk of homelessness

Rent: $550 to $825

This 41-unit low-income housing building at 4349 West Saanich Rd. is set to break ground early fall. The $12-million project is spearheaded by Saint Vincent de Paul, which already owns the property and will subdivide it, and is funded in part by private donations and B.C. Housing.

The project caters to single-mothers and older women. There is a family unit in the plans and a daycare with spots for up to 37 children.

Executive director Angela Hudson said the project fills a need for housing for young mothers who need supports to go to school or gain better work experience. It will also help older women, who might have been in subsidized family housing but are left in limbo after their children grow up.

“We felt the concept of a village just made sense,” she said. There will be a walking trail and community garden as well.

Wilson's Walk

Pacifica Housing

Size: 108 units

Address: Wilson Street, Vic West

Budget: $20.5 million

Who it’s for: Young urban singles, young couples, and families

Rent: $625 to $1,600

Schematic designs for Pacifica Housing’s Wilson’s Walk project in Vic West include 18 three-bedroom apartments, a rarity for new buildings in the region.

“There was definitely a need identified for three bedrooms in Victoria, especially for young families,” said executive director Karyn French. Construction on the project should begin this fall, adding 84 new affordable units to the Victoria market. Two floors in the building will go for market value to offset costs. There are 108 units in total.

“If we can keep on budget we can make the units as affordable as possible,” said French, meaning below market value. In Victoria, average market price for a bachelor apartment is about $700.

French expects the building, adjacent to Pacifica’s Wing project at 109 Wilson St., to make a dent in affordable housing needs for entry-level and service workers making lower wages. The organization will manage the building.

Dahli Place

Greater Victoria Rental Development

Society and Greater Victoria Housing Society

Size: 68 units

Address: 39 Gorge Rd. E., Victoria

Budget: $13.4 million

Who it’s for: Low-income renters

Rent: $675 to $1,300

Construction is almost complete at Dahli Place, a 68-unit affordable housing complex on the old Friendly Inn site (39 Gorge Rd. E.). The $13.4-million project is a joint venture between the Greater Victoria Housing Society and the Greater Victoria Rental Development Society.

“We’re doing something unique here,” said GVHS executive director Kaye Melliship. The large property allowed them to subdivide and build an additional five townhouses, which will be sold to help finance the project — which also has contributions from donors, governments and a mortgage.

“We took a risk but I think it will be a good one,” she said. The affordable units will range from bachelor suites to two bedrooms and rent from $675 to $1,300 for those with incomes under $30,000.

Cottage Grove

Cool Aid Society

Size: 45 units

Address: 3207-3223 Quadra St., Saanich

Budget: $4.8 million

Who it’s for: Seniors

Rent: $375 plus $100 for one meal a day

“We could be shovel ready by spring but it’s still dependent on provincial funding,” said Kathy Stinson, executive director of Cool Aid Society, about plans for the 45-unit supportive seniors housing in Saanich.

The $4.8-million project needs about three-quarters of the funding from B.C. Housing and $625,000 from fundraising. Stinson said Saanich and neighbourhood associations are on board. Cottage Grove would have support staff on-site around the clock.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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