City of Nanaimo loses their chance for $7 million supportive housing project in Chase River

By Spencer Sterritt
March 8, 2018 - 7:06pm

City staff and councillors faced tough questions from the community about a $7 million supportive housing project in Chase River, which will no longer come to the City.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW Staff

NANAIMO — The province pulled their offer of $7 million for a supportive housing project in Chase River, NanaimoNewsNOW has learned.

A response from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on Thursday said given the significant need for housing and several other interested communities “We will be reallocating this funding to support housing in another community that has identified a site and is ready to partner with us at this time.”

The proposed location in Nanaimo for the provincially-funded project was on Cranberry Ave. in Chase River, which drew the ire of the community for being beside an elementary school and Boys and Girls club.

The location was actually first turned down by Nanaimo Council on Feb. 19 after a barrage of concerns about the site. At the time, Council said they would work with BC Housing and the Ministry to find an alternative site. Earlier this week, mayor Bill McKay sent Minister Selina Robinson a formal letter asking for more time to find a suitable spot.

In an earlier statement to NanaimoNewsNOW, the Ministry said the City didn't offer an alternative site.

Coun. Diane Brennan said she was disappointed but not surprised by the news.

“It's a sad day for people who are living rough throughout this city and equally sad for neighbourhoods that have encampments in many areas close to where they live. Things will not improve until we accept that homeless people need housing first before their lives can improve.”

Brennan said City staff diligently searched for alternative locations but were hamstrung by policies set by Council and couldn't find a spot which was properly zoned or in an ideal location fitting with the policy aiming at spreading out supportive housing around the City.

The City was the one to initially ask for this housing, when the public safety committee recommended Council start work creating supportive modular housing and ask the province for part of the nearly $300 million in funding made available for such projects.

However, the announcement Nanaimo was chosen for the project and it would be in Chase River caused much confusion and surprise since the south Nanaimo community hadn't been consulted.

“It's about child safety,” a Chase River resident said at an open house held days after the project was announced by the province. “With needles, with feces, who's going to clean it up? Who's going to be responsible for those things? You have people with mental health problems, if they're out on the street, what about our children's safety?”

Mayor Bill McKay said confusion marred the entire process, all the way up to learning about the rejection.

“To be honest with you, the first I learned of this, as the mayor, was the notification where you called looking for answers. I have not as the mayor been notified by the minister of this decision.”

He also said there was miscommunication between the province, Council and City Staff, saying the actual client base of the project wasn't what they'd been previously told.

“Don't get me wrong, Council wants to help. However, we need to make sure we have a clear understanding of the client base so we can site these types of projects appropriately based on who we're trying to serve.”

McKay said the greatest lesson learned from the debacle was “information, information, information.

“We have to make sure we have the proper information so we can properly engage our community. We want projects like this to be an asset in our community, not a liability.”

Looking to the future, McKay said he'd been assured by the ministry, though not in writing, there will be a second round of funding for supportive housing projects and Nanaimo will re-apply.

“Now that we've got a clearer picture of the client base we're trying to address, we can go to the community and we can find suitable locations, which may even include purchase. We're going to get ready for that second round.”

Emails to the City about what other sites were looked at or offered to the province after the initial rejection and what they'll focus on for the second round weren't responded to.


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