The housing affordability crisis in Chilliwack was on the menu at a breakfast meeting in the Neighbourhood Learning Centre Tuesday.
It was the monthly gathering of Chilliwack Healthier Community (CHC) a network of more than 40 health and social service providers, and other partners, who work to solve some of Chilliwack’s thorniest social problems.
They heard updates on affordable and low-income housing projects totalling more than 150 units for Chilliwack that are in the works.
Some have broken ground, while others are still in the planning stages.
Graham McMahon is the new housing development coordinator for Pacific Community Resources Society. He’s been in his new role since in June, working hard on a made-in-Chilliwack project he is developing named the Housing Hub.
“We’re trying to come up a plan to deal with the housing crisis we’re in,” McMahon said, setting the stage as to why this has become a crisis.
It has almost impossible to secure rental housing now, and “reno-victions” have become commonplace in Chilliwack, one of B.C.’s fastest growing communities. Rental properties are being purchased because Chilliwack is seen as one of the last “affordable” housing communities in terms of real estate prices, McMahon said, using the air quotes.
A 204 per cent increase in homelessness was also revealed in the last homeless count, McMahon said. Add to that the hidden homeless, and the large at-risk population which spends more than 50 per cent of their income on rent to get a fuller picture.
Karen Stanton, City of Chilliwack’s director of development, gave a quick summary of a decade of city-led planning and partnering by staff and council, to ink an affordable housing strategy, which later was refined and re-branded as Homeless Action Plan.
Although homelessness and housing are provincial responsibilities, the city has been involved since day one, behind the scenes and up front, taking action in areas where it can.
It has been necessary to “attack the issues on multiple fronts,” Stanton said, and that is being accomplished through the work of the CHC network.
Critics have said that the city should “do something” despite it being a provincial jurisdiction.
More than $1 million in fees were waived by council for two residential housing projects coming down the pike, which is “significant” support, she said, which is appreciated by BC Housing.
“I can tell you we are doing as much as we can, and it’s a lot more than before,” said Stanton. “But no single agency can tackle this alone.”
Janice Silver, CEO of Mamele’awt Qweesome Housing Society (MQHS) gave an update on the new 80-unit project going in on Yale Road, behind Canton Gardens to house low-income families and at-risk youth. Formerly under the working title of Urban Village, the new name of the project is The Waterstone.
They broke ground last fall and should be completed by December 2018. The plan for the Waterstone is to offer market rentals, as well as affordable housing units, with the ground-floor reserved for commercial use.
The approach will be “fully inclusive” and serve a diverse clientele. It will “celebrate Indigenous culture, and welcome all.”
Add to those 80 units, another 36.
Ruth and Naomi’s Mission is building its 36-unit Family Centre on Princess Avenue.
The new structure will be behind the existing mission building, explained RAN executive director Bill Raddatz. They’re hoping to be in by September, but that’s not guaranteed.
There will be one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units in the upper floors of the new building. Rents will range from $550 to $775, which are about 40 per cent below market rates.
The first level will see a wellness centre, with medical doctors, dentists, counsellors and a daycare on the other side, with affordable units and more above.
“The centre will offer full-fledged service for our community, not just for residents of the building.”
Tim Bohr, Community Ministries Director for Salvation Army in Chilliwack, told the group he had good news to report, with the new modular shelter going in where their parking lot now is, and a more permanent building is planned for the longer term.
“We are generally moving in the right direction,” Bohr said.
He said the 46-bed Modular Temporary Shelter they are planning in partnership with B.C. Housing will be the first “low-barrier” facility in Chilliwack with interconnecting portables built by Britco.
Bohr was asked about the eviction of the Evans Road homeless camp recently, and if there was room for any those people at the Sally Ann, had they desired to sleep there.
“We’ve been in those camps with our outreach workers for several months, actually for over a few years, because that thing has been going on for several years.
“The offer has always been, ‘Come to our shelter, go to Ruth and Naomi’s,’ as they begin the journey of getting out of this homelessness situation. There has been very, very little uptake. Bill (Raddatz) said he got one person. Again an example of how difficult it is to get those folks to take the first step.”
He said it’s a challenging demographic, but the news that Chilliwack will have “no barrier” housing available, which is part of the “Housing First” philosophy, is unprecedented.
“It means you can show up in any state of inebriation and still be given a cot. That didn’t exist prior to this.”
Jutta Wykpis of Pacific Community Resources Society, gave a report on the five-bedroom Butchart House purchased by BC Housing that opened recently, for those coming out of the 22-bed Annis Residence in the contact centre.
She also gave the crowd an overview of the Housing Hub, a “systems based” project known as the Housing Hub being created and piloted by PCRS Housing Development Coordinator Graham McMahon.
Stay tuned for more of this housing hub project in a later edition, as well as other initiatives in Chilliwack.