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Low-income Saanich seniors struggle in the local housing crisis’ grip

Cottages for low-income seniors becoming 85-unit affordable housing building

Photos and decorations cover most of the wall space in Peggy Flett’s quaint but cozy home.

But her cottage community at the Dawson Heights housing complex in Saanich is set to be removed around the start of February to make way for an 85-unit affordable housing building for seniors.

The 67-year-old’s situation highlights a challenge where the new building at the Cedar Hill Road property looks to mitigate the local housing crisis, while the low-income seniors currently living there are worried about not having anywhere to go.

Flett and fellow resident Paul Monfette, 68, knew their four-month notice could drop at any moment but were caught off guard after being told they likely wouldn’t have to move out during winter – a concern among those in the cottages given their age, medical conditions and mobility challenges.

“It’s not a surprise, it’s just the time of year,” Flett said.

The residents requested a two-month extension, seeing it as a small ask amid the years-long project, but it was denied by the housing society’s board.

“(They’re) putting the financial responsibility over the needs and concerns of us,” Monfette said, questioning whether work crews were even in place when the extension was denied. “So I don’t think there’s a great financial loss that would be incurred by waiting.”

Rev. Peter Parker, the Dawson Heights board chair, said the weather could still be bad in late March and pushing work back two months creates costs that would be hard on their non-profit. He added they need to provide firm dates for contractors after it took a long time for Saanich to permit the demolition.

“We can’t afford to wait any longer, this project has been in the hard planning stage for five years and we just had one delay after another,” Parker said.

He also pointed to mould and structural issues in some of the ’50s-built cottages as why the renewal is needed.

“I get it, it’s business, I understand they’ve been waiting a long time and things are coming into place,” Flett said. “However, we’re here, we’re important, we exist. And for 26 seniors, all at the same time to expect to find a place in the winter is just beyond me.”

Their struggle now is actually finding a vacant affordable place before move-out day. The pair of retirees wish the redevelopment – which will give them a chance to return once completed – would’ve considered having alternate housing set up for residents since it was in the works for years. The private market isn’t an option as even the most modest studio rent would deplete Flett’s monthly budget after she was paying under $600 for her cottage.

“The main concern is we don’t have anywhere to go,” she said.

The seniors also wished relocating came with better support from the housing society. A letter to the residents said they’ve, for over a year, been offered assistance in finding new housing. But that assistance has only included being given applications for three other low-income locations and help filling out the forms, the residents said.

“There aren’t any openings,” Flett said.

Parker said “it’s fair to say we’re doing considerably more than a not-for-profit would be doing for its residents.”

The cottagers will get a $250 moving credit and while Parker said they had years to prepare financially for the notice, he acknowledges the cost of everything has gone up.

Dawson Heights is trying to ease the housing crisis by doubling the affordable rentals with the cottages redevelopment, Parker said, but he’s conscious residents could be put in a tough position.

“I wish I could wave a magic wand and come up with a wonderful alternate place for each of them but we’re all living in the same reality.”

Dawson Heights cottage residents Kathleen Cox, Peggy Flett and Paul Monfette (left to right). (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Dawson Heights cottage residents Kathleen Cox, Peggy Flett and Paul Monfette (left to right). (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

READ: New 85-unit seniors housing development gets green light from Saanich council Follow us on Instagram.
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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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