Comment: Rethink decision to axe plan for Parksville retirement home

For more than 30 years, Pacifica Housing has been a leading provider of supportive, subsidized, market and near-market housing options in Greater Victoria and Nanaimo. It has acquired, built and/or renovated more than 1,200 units, and houses more than 2,000 people.

We at Pacifica Housing were dismayed to hear about Berwick Retirement Communities’ decision to cancel its 188-unit project in Parksville on account of a supportive housing building, Orca Place, under construction across the street. Neighbourhood fears appear to have been the primary cause for this move.

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We have experience in Nanaimo that suggests these fears are not borne out. Since 2015, we have operated a supportive housing complex called Uplands Walk, with staff on-site 24/7. Uplands Walk is next to a seniors’ residence, Nanaimo Seniors Village.

It is in the middle of the Dover neighbourhood, close to schools. With 33 units, it houses men and women who were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Its mandate is to provide innovative, affordable housing options and extensive support services to help break the cycle of homelessness. As in the case of Orca Place, B.C. Housing also provided funding for Uplands Walk.

During planning and construction of Uplands Walk, neighbours expressed concerns about crime rates, declining property values and proximity to schools. These issues were the subject of research by students at Vancouver Island University and expanded upon by Pacifica.

Pacifica’s Supported Housing Neighbourhood Impact Assessment was completed in January 2018 and can be found on the Pacifica website.

We have a team of dedicated professionals to ensure our projects integrate successfully into neighbourhoods. Highlights of our Uplands Walk report include:

• Prior to the development, 32 per cent of residents were concerned about crime escalating. Today, only six per cent are concerned.

• Neighbourhood property values rose 13 per cent between 2015 and 2016, keeping pace with the Vancouver Island average of 14 per cent.

• Before construction, 14 per cent of residents were concerned about the proximity to a local school. That is now reported at only two per cent.

• Tenants have better life outcomes: 54 per cent became active in their community through work or volunteering, 85 per cent have better health impacts, 70 per cent have accessed mental health services.

It clearly shows the level of community concern in all areas dropped consistently after Uplands Walk was completed and that challenges identified by residents did not materialize after the building opened.

Housing options such as Uplands Walk and Orca Place are necessary if we are to address the growing challenges of homelessness.

Our Camas Gardens building in Victoria’s Fairfield neighbourhood is also next door to a seniors’ facility, surrounded by a variety of premium residences. It also is a great example of successful integration of mixed-use neighbourhood.

At Uplands Walk, Camas Gardens and other housing projects that Pacifica runs in Victoria, and that other societies operate elsewhere, individuals are given the chance to establish stability in their lives through having a home with supports. We have many success stories where individuals with multiple issues have improved mental and physical health, increased community connections and started new work or volunteer.

We strongly suggest that Berwick reconsider its plan to cancel what is clearly a very important seniors’ housing project for the Parksville-Qualicum Beach region.

Margaret Eckenfelder is executive director of Pacifica Housing, Victoria and Nanaimo.

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