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BC Housing buys site in downtown New West for supportive housing project

New West to consider supportive housing project in downtown for homeless
BC Housing has purchased a vacant property at 68 Sixth St. with the hopes of building a supportive housing project to address homelessness in New West.

BC Housing has purchased a property in downtown New West with the hopes of building housing for people who are experiencing homelessness.

The City of New Westminster and BC Housing are exploring a plan to create about 52 new homes with supports for adults at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.  Supportive housing sites, like the one being proposed at 68 Sixth St., have staff on-site 24/7 to support residents and to provide services such as meals programs, life skills training, employment skill training, access to health supports and referrals to other community services.

“Future residents at 68 Sixth St. would go through a thorough assessment process to ensure an appropriate mix of residents with the right supports,” said a notice from BC Housing. “All residents would sign a program agreement (similar to a tenancy agreement) and pay rent.”

Matthew Borghese, a senior communications advisor with BC Housing, confirmed the province, through BC Housing, has purchased the vacant site at the corner of Sixth and Agnes streets.

"We estimate that this project will be completed in 2022,” he said in an email to the Record. “However, we are aware that there remains a COVID-19 pandemic, global construction supply pressures, local labour pressures, and other factors that may impact that deadline.”

On Sept. 13, city council received a staff report outlining a series of “crisis response bylaw amendments,” including bylaw amendments related to non-market rental housing project opportunities that have been identified at 350 to 366 Fenton St. in Queensborough and 68 Sixth St.

Council directed staff to draft crisis response bylaw amendments, including bylaws to enable envisioned projects on Fenton Street and Sixth Street, and to present the bylaws for first reading at a future council meeting. At the same time, council directed staff to “bundle development review” of several crisis response bylaw amendments, with the goal of fast-tracking these review processes and better meeting current and near-future funding opportunities.

Emilie Adin, the city’s director of development services, said the city is at the “preliminary report stage” of consideration of the Sixth Street project. Because the city is “tight on time” she said staff recommended that the city send out referrals to assorted groups, including a number of First Nations, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and the New Westminster school district, and seek their input regarding proposed changes to the official community plan.

According to BC Housing, construction of the apartment would require a rezoning and an official community plan amendment. The city and BC Housing will be hosting community information sessions in the fall, where they will share more details about the  proposed project.

“That would be in a repurposed, modular building – a four-storey repurposed modular building,” Adin said. “In fact, the fact that it’s repurposed would help bring it to completion more quickly than otherwise could be possible.”

Borghese said the modular housing BC Housing would use for this project is new and unused.

“The units were manufactured for a different project that did not move forward,” he said. “Their size, amenities, and capacity are a perfect fit for this project.”

While the Sixth Street project is a new opportunity for the city, Adin said council supported the Fenton Street project in-principle in October 2019.

“We are now looking at a slightly larger site,” she noted. “There is an opportunity for a 58-unit Indigenous housing project in partnership with the Vancouver Native Housing Society. That is four or five city-owned lots that we would be looking at, and looking at CMHC funding. In fact, a capital grant has already been submitted. We are looking to partner with BC Housing on operating funding for that. This is a project that’s already had some consultation to date.”

The proposals are being considered at a time when the City of New Westminster is embarking on plans to create a new homelessness action strategy. The March 2020 homeless count enumerated 41 unsheltered and 82 sheltered homeless people in New Westminster, but it’s suspected this is likely a significant undercount of the number of folks who have no homes.

Mayor Jonathan Cote anticipates that some “great work” is going to come out of the homelessness action strategy, but said that more needed to be done in regards to housing in the community – and the sooner the better. He said the supportive housing project being proposed on Sixth Street directly relates to the homelessness issue that’s being experienced in the downtown and he’s pleased to see BC Housing step in and purchase a site to help address housing needs.

“As a city and as a community that has seen homelessness increase, we need to get there to see what we can do to be able to support and have these projects and this type of housing, which we know we need in our community,” he said.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus
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