Mount Edwards social housing views diverge at hearing

 

A proposal to rezone Mount Edwards Court for supportive social housing drew strong arguments for and against during a packed public hearing in Victoria on Thursday night.

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The former seniors care home, at 1002 Vancouver St., is currently being used as transitional housing for former residents of the tent city, housing 38 people at a time.

The rezoning proposal put forward by the Victoria Cool Aid Society, on behalf of B.C. Housing, would permit 78 supportive housing units and 15 affordable rental housing units. A legal agreement would mandate the facility be restricted to residents 50 years and older, with no illicit substance use permitted. It would be staffed around the clock.

Cool Aid says only those with low-to-moderate support requirements will be admitted.

Mayor Lisa Helps has called the proposal a good fit for the community, in that it would basically house “poor seniors who have had some health challenges.”

Helps tried to focus debate Thursday on what the project will be, rather than what it is now. 

Paul Christopher, a volunteer street outreach worker, said: “I’m all for this development, the way it is now and the way it’s going to be.”

Christopher said he expected to hear a lot of “not in my backyard talk” during the public hearing. While the supportive housing’s location near an elementary school is not ideal, he said, money available through the province can alleviate concerns.

“This development is going to work,” he said.

Officials for private elementary school Christ Church Cathedral School have said enrolment has plummeted after incidents such as an individual running round the schoolyard in a drug-induced delirium and the presence, at times, of drug users in the school parking lot.

Christ Church Cathedral School officials and parents of students have spoken out against the proposal.

Head of school Stuart Hall told the public hearing “our focus has always been the safety of the children.”

The density of the project is too large, double the capacity of what is considered ideal for this type of housing, he said, saying he is concerned that mechanisms for addressing concerns and accountability are lacking.

He asked council to consider doing what’s best to ensure the neighbourhood remains safe.

Michael Geoghegan, a government and media relations consultant, said he has friends whose children attend Christ Church Cathedral School and argued that putting supportive housing beside an elementary school is inappropriate.

“I fail to see why we are rolling the dice here,” Geoghegan said. “It’s criminally irresponsible to put housing like this next to an elementary school.”

He suggested that “someone is going to be badly hurt” if the project goes ahead.

“Is it worth the risk to these children?”

The former seniors care home near Rockland Avenue was purchased by the province for $3.65 million in 2016 in the wake of the tent city that had dug in on the courthouse lawn, to help address the homelessness issue.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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