The fast-tracked construction of 283 new housing spaces for Greater Victoria’s most vulnerable residents announced Wednesday could make a major difference in housing the region’s homelessness, say politicians and local advocates.
The federal and provincial governments announced six housing projects in Victoria, Central Saanich and Saanich on Wednesday, as well as funding for 24/7 wrap-around health care, addictions and mental health supports.
The funding – more than $13 million from Ottawa alone, combined with the undisclosed purchase price of provincial investments – could make a major dent in the problem of lack of housing and shelter space for the unhoused, said Kelly Roth, from the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.
“We are actually going to impact homelessness,” she said. “This influx of housing units … paired with health supports is exactly what we have been talking about.”
The federal projects include 52 supportive units on Albina Street in Saanich and 39 units on Prosser Road in Central Saanich.
The provincial projects include 45 units on Catherine Street in Vic West, 60 units on Balmoral Street, 50 units on Meares Street and 37 units on Yates Street.
The B.C. government said all of the projects will include on-site supports, meals, support services, laundry, and medical supports.
Federal housing minister Ahmed Hussen called it an opportunity to provide “greater quality of life, and an equal and fair opportunity for success for all.”
The governments will start construction within months on the projects, due to the province announcing it would use its legal powers to bypass local rezoning requirements, public hearings and any votes required at municipal council meetings.
Attorney General David Eby, the minister responsible for provincial housing, said mayors encouraged him to take control and fast-track the construction outside of regular approvals.
“For the local governments involved here, the priority and the urgency they understood from their constituents was they wanted something done on homelessness,” he said.
“In Victoria, people wanted their parks back. People wanted the misery and suffering on their doorsteps to end as quickly as possible and on a fixed timeline.
“For Saanich, they saw an opportunity from the federal government that required them to act within a certain timeline and they wanted to access that funding.”
The move means any concerned neighbourhood residents near the housing sites won’t be able to use traditional methods of public engagement and political influence, including lobbying local council members to ask for project changes and attending public hearings. However, Eby said BC Housing will engage in some other types of consultation to address any local concerns.
A group of Vic West residents said they have concerns about both the process and the selection of Catherine Street, a primarily residential part of Vic West, as a location.
“It’s not that we are against supportive housing, by any means, we are a welcoming and supportive community,” said Jess Cross, of Vic West Together. “We have concerns given we are a fully residential neighbourhood and it’s a high-density unit.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said it’s the right move.
“A shopping container is not a home, an arena is not a home, even a motel room is not a home,” she said. “And we’ve been saying to people living in parks or in these temporary situations that they are on a pathway to permanent housing, and these 300 units are part of the pathway to that.”
The federal and provincial projects are separate from more than 200 shelter spaces the province is also creating to give temporary indoor beds for unhoused residents camping in local parks by April 30.
New federal and provincial housing projects could make major progress in region’s homelessness
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