Driving by the former Cedars Motel, it may not look like there’s anything going on from the outside, but on the inside renovations and construction are well underway for low and fixed income housing units.
The building was sold to the Terrace and District Community Services Society (TDCSS) to be turned into about 21 housing units as part of the city’s and TDCSS’s plan to provide more of this much-needed housing.
“Even though it’s been viewed as just sitting here, no one has been sitting around. We’re in and doing the work and now meeting the challenges,” said TDCSS executive director Michael McFetridge.
Inside the building, the rooms have been stripped down as phase one of three is well-underway.
“It’s always been presented as a multi-phased project,” said McFetridge.
“The most important thing is the housing aspect,” for low- and fixed-income residents, he said. Two units will be fully wheelchair and walker accessible to facilitate independent living.
TDCSS has been working with Progressive Ventures on the construction.
“We’ve worked together to make sure the plans we came up with are the best ones we can put in place,” said McFetridge.
Living units will mostly be studio apartments with private washrooms, kitchenettes and living space, he added.
Two or three units will contain one or two bedrooms, while more rooms off the foyer will be restructured as wheelchair accessible, said McFetridge.
A live-in caretaker will provide basic maintenance and help with smaller tasks, like letting in people if they forget their key.
A commercial kitchen is set as the second phase and is pretty important, said McFetridge.
“[It] will have the capacity to become a vocational training place,” said McFetridge.
“People will have safe secure housing and if they want, they can get vocational skills training. Once they complete the program, they can get long-term employment.”
Phase three is to look at making residential gardens and maybe some greenhouses for winter in the large lot behind the building.
The three stages give people a place to live, a way to support themselves and a food source. If they choose, residents can simply live in the secure environment, or participate in all three phases.
TDCSS’s poverty law advocacy program and the Homeless Outreach Program may also be partly moved over to the newly renovated building, added McFetridge.
Part of planning for food security is to connect with other non-profits to establish partnerships and collaborative relationships with other organizations to help decide what is needed.
The completion date was initially for this month but the scope has increased so the current “guesstimation” is a February or March opening, hopefully with the kitchen done as well. Capital funds are available now for a roughed-in kitchen, but more funding is needed for kitchen equipment.
“We get literally dozens of calls every week from people who want to access [housing],”McFetridge added.
Progressive Ventures’ business development manager Hatha Callis asked for patience among prospective tenants, saying it was important to remember the building is more than 50 years old. “Until we get into a building and tear the walls off and see what we’ve got, no one really knows how long you need [to do renovations]. Once the true story is exposed, we will be able to get into it. Only then can we get in and say ‘now we know what it is,” said Callis.
“Then you’re able to put all those plans in place to determine the needs and plan ahead.”
Project coordinator Christian Mundhenk said there are requirements from the bodies involved and a lot of changes have been requested by the city and BC Housing regarding building safe.
“Some reconfiguration of fire exits is required because of the way it was built originally,” said Mundhenk.
The budget planning process has included contingencies with BC Housing and Progressive Ventures for issues like this.
“Unless a meteorite falls on the building we’re covered,” McFetridge said.
The change in provincial government won’t affect the process.
“We are talking about public bodies. Regardless of the administration process, the public bodies we deal with all have the same mandate. We’re all on the same team, all have same goal,” said McFetridge.
Having two accessible units is the maximum that can be renovated because the building is so old; otherwise it would need to be rebuilt to meet current requirements, he said.
“All of the spaces open to those type of construction [renovations] are going through it,” said McFetridge.
“One of the big things is inclusion, it is what we (TDCSS) are all about. Where we have the capacity to make structural changes, we will make them for full wheelchair access where the person can be completely independent, so only 10 per cent [of the units] actually meet that parameter.”
As for a name, McFetridge said it’s being called the same.
“Right now, it’s The Cedars. Pretty much everybody knows it as Cedars,” he said, adding that TDCSS might have a contest to name it in the future.
He feels it would be great to have the Homeless Outreach Program’s soup kitchen in this building in future, but it would require funders to make it happen.
“I’m really excited about it,” said McFetridge. “Now is the time, I will be coming to the community and stakeholders to let them know about the different phases and that it’s meeting a clearly established need in the city.”
McFetridge said one of the things TDCSS is excited about is the relationship with Progressive Ventures.
“We want to learn from this, and every aspect about it, and grow to offer similar kinds of structures and innovative programs. It’s not just housing; having a stable, well and healthy life means you’ve got to know where you’re eating and how to provide for yourself and your family. You need to feel valued and feel part of something.
“It can’t be one small piece, it has to be innovative and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re learning here with Progressive Ventures, and after this we will move on to more projects.”