Victoria mayor asks landlords to help house homeless

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is appealing to landlords and property owners to assist with efforts to move 200 people indoors from city parks by the end of the year.

Helps said the Community Wellness Alliance of ­government, business and social-service officials set the “rather arbitrary” goal based on available resources, ­including 60 affordable-housing units opening next month, 24 available treatment beds at Our Place’s Therapeutic Recovery ­Community, and 110 rent subsidies provided by B.C. Housing and Island Health.

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The subsidies will be a key to success, because they top up the $375 a month that people on income assistance receive for shelter, allowing them to pay $750 to $825 a month in rent.

Alliance members are ­hoping that people ready to live ­independently will use the ­supplements to move from ­supportive housing into private-market apartments, freeing up space that will allow others to get off the street.

Helps, who chairs the alliance’s decampment working group, acknowledged that finding that number of apartments in less than three months poses a major challenge. So far, only seven have been found for Nov. 1.

That’s why alliance members are contacting landlords in search of vacant units, she said.

“It’s a tight rental market and rents are expensive, but … if we look to Nov. 1, Dec. 1, Jan. 1 — certainly across the whole region in three months we could drum up those 110 units.

“So that’s what we’re aiming for.”

Kathy Stinson, chief executive officer of the Victoria Cool Aid Society, agreed that finding that many apartments in such a short period of time will be difficult. Cool Aid manages about 20 rent supplements that help people move into apartments from the transitional housing units at Rock Bay Landing.

Stinson said success depends on building good relationships with landlords, and that can take time.

“But I think by trying to get the word out broadly, certainly there has been a bit more vacancy in the marketplace since COVID hit,” she said. “And so I think with the level of rent subsidy that is available, there will definitely be landlords that are willing to participate.”

Carolina Ibarra, chief executive officer of Pacifica Housing, said one of the factors working in the alliance’s favour is that rent supplements have a proven record of success. Pacifica currently manages 120 rental supplements worth about $600,000 a year, and has established good relationships with landlords over 10 years by supporting people as they make the transition to apartment living, she said.

“What works really well for the landlord is that if there’s ever any challenges — because there can be in any tenancy — they have someone to call,” she said. “And we really work to try and sort things out to make the tenancy successful.”

Ibarra said that even when tenants move or leave the program, Pacifica has maintained its relationships with 90 per cent of the landlords, “which I think is very telling.”

David Hutniak, chief executive officer of Landlord B.C., said rent supplements represent a “win-win-win” for the people moving into apartments, the people waiting for spots in supportive housing and the non-profit housing providers that have to manage the transitions.

As for property owners, Hutniak said the supplements give landlords confidence that new tenants will be able to pay the rent. Landlords would also welcome any additional supports that would help tenants make a successful transition, he said.

“At the end of the day, we all share a common goal of providing housing security for our community, and I’m reasonably confident that many landlords in Victoria and [the Capital Regional District] would be willing to participate in this initiative,” he said.

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