Arts community applauds new housing project in New Westminster

Members of New Westminster’s arts community are giving a standing ovation to a new housing project that’s getting underway.

Work is getting underway this month on a project at 831 Carnarvon St., which includes 204 market condominiums in the 32-storey Ovation building and 66 non-market rental units in the eight-storey PAL New Westminster building. The project is aiming to be complete in the summer of 2022.

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PAL New Westminster will include 25 studios and 41 one-bedroom units for those from arts-oriented professions with low to moderate incomes, with priority going to seniors and people with disabilities.

“It’s a huge weight off your shoulder,” actor Russell Roberts said of having affordable housing. “You have a place to live.”

Roberts, a longtime New West resident, is thrilled that New Westminster has embraced this project. While he and wife Colleen Winton, who is also an actor, have a home, he said many who work in the performing arts aren’t as fortunate.

“The opportunity to be supported in a housing community is immense,” he said.

Some people who work in the performing arts may not be able to collect EI when they’re not working, and some may not have pensions.

“I have been in the business over 40 years. I think my RRSP is worth $1,800 because I have to keep cashing it in to pay rent or mortgage or bills, or whatever,” Roberts said. “I’ll be very honest here, from November of 2018 to August of this year, I had no work. I had no work; I had no income.”

Roberts said the community will benefit from PAL’s presence in New West.

“It’s an amazing place for artists to be,” he said. “What happens is, we do go out into the community, we do interact, we do give classes. We go into the local arts community and do shows.”

Stephen O’Shea, executive director of the Arts Council of New Westminster, said it’s great to see a private developer, various levels of government and a non-profit working together to provide housing for retired people in the performing arts.

“There is no pension plan. There is really no thought ahead because we are so busy and involved in the work we do. We are so passionate about the art itself that sometimes there isn’t always a plan B or a backup plan for where we retire,” he said. “It is not a sector that is known for paying all that well unless you are in the top 1%.”

O’Shea thinks there are “huge opportunities” for mentorship and intergenerational programming when PAL comes to town.

“I think we are going to see a lot of cool performances and a lot of new art created because of this partnership,” he said. “There are lots of programming opportunities between the arts council and PAL in the future. I can’t wait.”

PAL Vancouver, a non-profit organization established in 2001 to provide long-standing members of performing arts professions with affordable housing in a vibrant community, will be the operator.

"It is widely acknowledged that the work done by arts and culture professionals enriches our communities and that housing affordability is an acute challenge for many who work in the arts,” said Mike Klassen, board president of PAL Vancouver. “With the generous support of our partners, many people from this important cultural sector will have access to affordable housing in New Westminster's vibrant downtown neighbourhood."

Vintop Development Corporation is contributing $2 million to the project.

Luke Yu, president of Vintop Development Corporation, said Vintop Development and Domus Homes are proud to partner with BC Housing and the City of New Westminster to bring the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL) to New Westminster.

“We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to develop Ovation and performing artists’ living space with BC Housing,” he said in a press release. “It has been our honour to be able to contribute towards housing for artists who have been persistently pursuing their dreams their entire lives."

The province is providing $7.4 million to help build the eight-storey building,

"This unique project will give people in our community the peace of mind that comes with safe and secure housing – something that every British Columbian deserves," said New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy. "It is a great example of how, working with community partners, we can build affordable homes for people from all walks of life across B.C."

Darcy said the project is one piece of the provincial government’s plan to address the housing crisis. She said the government is working hard to create more opportunities for affordable housing and to provide a diversity of housing.

In March 2018, city council approved Domus Home’s rezoning application for 813 to 823 Carnarvon St.

Acting Mayor Chinu Das told a crowd gathered at the ground-breaking ceremony that the City of New Westminster has a strong commitment to addressing housing affordability, and is working with the development industry, senior levels of government and non-profits on this front.

“The power of partnership is very important in what we are discussing today,” she said. “And what a wonderful partnership that is.”

To pave the way for this affordable housing project, Das said the city increased the density permitted for this site and waived some amenity charges.

Darcy said these 66 new homes will make a huge difference in people’s lives, will contribute to a healthy, vibrant community, will contribute to New Westminster’s dynamic arts community, and will help provide a secure future for people in their retirement.

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