A petition opposing the province’s plans to build supportive housing units along Terminal Avenue in Nanaimo is being circulated in that neighbourhood.
Earlier this month, Selina Robinson, minister of municipal affairs and housing, announced that the government had purchased 250 Terminal Ave. for $2 million in order to provide, via B.C. Housing, 80 units of temporary modular housing for people living at Discontent City. The province also plans to build 90 units of temporary housing on city-owned land at 2020 Labieux Rd.
Peter Giovando, a neighbour of the Terminal Avenue site, told the News Bulletin he’s helping circulate a newly created petition that calls on the provincial government to find a new location for the supportive housing project. He said the petition stems from a recent meeting with about 40 neighbours, who expressed safety and procedural concerns about the province’s decision.
“Safety is a concern. Our feeling is that there must be other locations within the city which would be more suitable for this kind of thing,” he said. “One particular concern is that this was done contrary to the bylaw. Houses are usually the biggest investment that people make in their lives and when they purchase a house they expect that bylaws are going to be adhered to and that if somebody comes in and wants to do something that is not allowed that they are going to have to go through the regular processes.”
Giovando said he was surprised when he first heard about the province’s announcement, adding that when he looked up the zoning of the Terminal Avenue property, he discovered it does not permit social housing. He said residents are upset by the province’s decision to purchase the property without prior consultation.
“The province has to be aware that we are very angry about it because it has been done to the detriment of the people in the neighbourhood and contrary to the zoning,” he said.
B.C. Housing did distribute a letter about its plans to residents living near the Terminal Avenue site. According to that letter, the Terminal Avenue property will be operated by a non-profit agency and house individuals who are over the age 19, provided they meet all the “requirements regarding income, homelessness and required supports and programming.”
Residents of the property will be required to pay rent and must sign a “program agreement” that lays out health and safety rules and expectations, according to the letter. Residents will be provided with support, including daily meal services, and there will be “two staff on-site 24 hours a day.” Long term, B.C. Housing plans to rezone the property in order to build permanent supportive housing, according to the letter, which does not provide a time frame or any other additional details on matters such as security and staffing.
Pearl and Sid Fredericksen, who own property on Vancouver Avenue but don’t live there anymore, received B.C. Housing’s letter. They’re concerned for the neighbourhood and upset that the province went ahead and bought the site without telling anyone.
“I am definitely not in favour it. I don’t know what the reason is for not being on the outskirts of town, rather than right on Terminal Avenue,” Sid said about the supportive housing project, adding that he hadn’t heard about the petition being circulated but would sign it.
A spokesperson for ministry of municipal affairs and housing confirmed in an e-mail to the News Bulletin that B.C. Housing has sent out flyers about the Terminal Avenue property to residents who live within 300 metres of the site.
Terminal Avenue was selected because of its proximity to community services, accessibility to transit, adequate lot size, connection to utilities and “compatible” land use policies, according to the spokesperson, who also said the Island Crisis Care Society will be the operator for the Terminal site while Pacifica will be the operator for Labieux Road.
Asked if the Terminal Avenue location was being considered as a long-term or permanent supportive housing site, the spokesperson responded that “the site for permanent supportive housing will be subject to the municipal approval process.”
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said while he is aware that B.C. Housing is planning to make the site permanent down the road, communication has been “very sketchy at best.” He said the provincial government can also do “pretty much whatever they want” on provincial land, but intends to go through the municipal rezoning process.
“What they’ve suggested to us is that any of the permanent projects, they intend to go through the full public engagement and full process,” he said, adding that it would include rezoning.
McKay said he has received complaints from residents living near Terminal Avenue and Labieux Road. He said although he understands their concerns, the fears that were relayed by residents living near the Uplands Walk supportive housing complex, for example, haven’t come to fruition.
“Properties values didn’t drop like rocks, they kept up with British Columbia and Nanaimo statistics. Crime didn’t go up,” McKay said.
Coun. Jerry Hong told the News Bulletin the province can “override” the city’s bylaws and zoning on a temporary basis. He said while there isn’t really anything the city can do at this point, any permanent supportive housing project proposed by B.C. Housing would have to come before council.
“When social housing is going to be discussed and built, then B.C. Housing have to come and discuss with the city and the community,” Hong said. “They have the ability to do what they want right now in the short-term, but to build social housing long-term, they do not have that power without going through rezoning and council’s approval.”
The ministry said in the e-mail that it has received questions and feedback from residents about the Terminal Avenue site and that an information session with B.C. Housing will be held sometime in November.