Homeless residents are closer to finding more housing options in the City of Terrace. City council passed the initial stages of changing the land use requirements on two pieces of property on Olson Ave. for a transition housing project.
In September the Province announced the Rapid Response to Homelessness initiative in response to the growing issue of homelessness across the province. BC Housing is now partnering with municipalities, non-profit organizations and community groups to create new housing units for individuals who are homeless or are at risk of being homeless.
For northern communities, including Terrace, BCH is proposing to construct permanent housing projects with 24-7 staff support.
Last month the city began preliminary discussions with BCH regarding a long-term lease for a portion of the city-owned properties with a total area of 0.45 hectares (1.1 acres) at 4519 and 4523 Olson Avenue for the development of a transitional housing project.
On Nov. 15, the province announced it was allocating close to $8 million towards the project.
City council resolved “to direct administration to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with BC Housing for the Rapid Response to Homelessness Program” at its Nov. 14 council meeting.
These city-owned properties are currently zoned for public and institutional use. The proposed rezoning would change them to high density, multi-family residential use.
The proposed three-storey apartment building would contain up to 52 small, self-contained bachelor units, each approximately 350-square feet. Each unit would have its own kitchen and bathroom. Shared spaces would provide TV and laundry rooms, a medical room and a programming space.
The building would also include office space for a building manager and 24-7 tenant support workers. Security cameras are also proposed for residents’ and the neighbourhood’s safety, the city said.
The units are intended for the people currently living on the street and will provide low barrier housing for transitional housing purposes. The units would also be available for long-term, low-cost independent housing.
Ground breaking is targeted for early spring 2018 with occupancy intended by January 2019 or sooner.
Rates of homelessness have been on the rise over the past few years in Terrace. City staff started conducting an annual homeless count in 2014 to track these figures. In 2014, 67 people identified themselves as homeless. In 2015, it was 73 persons, and in 2016, it was 113 persons. In 2017, the count decreased to 63.
In late 2015, Council struck a Homelessness Task Group (HTG) as a step in addressing the complex issue. A final report with six key recommendations was completed in late 2016.
The task group’s final recommendation proposed the creation of a shared housing project, targeting Terrace’s at risk homeless. Such a project would needed include emergency support to address basic needs of someone who suddenly becomes homeless, as well as rapid transitions out of homeless shelters into appropriate long-term accommodation with supports. The HTG further recommended this project should be to be part of a multi-organization, long-term plan involving the city in collaboration with key stakeholders.
A public hearing to gather input about the land use change and rezoning for 4519 and 4523 Olson Avenue will be held Dec. 11 at City Hall. The time is still to be determined.
At the Nov. 14 meeting, councillor Michael Prevost said this government initiative was a testament to the years of work city staff, community and organizations and multiple levels of government have done to increase the spectrum of housing.
“I hope community members and organizations actually come out to support this rezoning,” said Prevost. “We’ve recognized and had many community members and organizations talk about the need and this is a need that could be filled and really make a difference to vulnerable people in the community and help transition to long-term stable housing.”
“I encourage for the public hearing [that] people in support of this project come and speak to what their hopes and desires are.”
Councillor Sean Bujtas said it was a good opportunity since the provincial government had made a commitment to making 2,000 units available in the province. The proposed 52 in Terrace represents 2.6 per cent of that total, a good amount for a city this size.
Councillor Stacey Tyers who appeared by phone said “Obviously everybody knows my feelings on housing. I do think it’s important that those in favour speak up [because] quite often a small group of very loud voices manage to derail projects like this so I think it’s really important people do support this and really come out and support it.”