Funding for supportive housing complex still an issue

The City of Courtenay first needs to determine if it can secure operating funds before issuing a Request for Proposal to select a non-profit operator for a proposed supportive housing complex on the east side of town.

The City has retained the services of social planning consultant John Jessup, who has met with approximately 30 residents at two neighbourhood consultations about the Braidwood Road project since he last addressed council in March. Council has identified the project as its top priority for 2014.

The 30-unit complex is intended to assist homeless people, and those with social issues and challenges.

Attendees at the consultations harbour a number of concerns about homeless people living in the neighbourhood and lower market values of properties, among other examples. One person suggests spreading low-income housing through several neighbourhoods rather than creating a slum in one area. Another suggests housing a homeless person in a rental unit in every condo in Courtenay.

Jessup feels the site is not a bad choice. It’s in a mixed use, low- to moderate-household income area, which has experienced problems with drugs and alcohol.

To “soften the project around the edges of concern,” he suggests restricting occupancy to those over 40, providing a ground-floor community space where neighbours would be welcome and including a van to shuttle tenants downtown, among other measures. Another idea is to reduce the project size to 24 units, though this would increase capital and operating costs, and reduce rental revenue.

Annual operating costs are estimated between $550,000 and $575,000 in the first year, depending on construction costs and mortgage interest rates.

Jessup recommends having two staff members working at all times, considering problems are likely to arise with some of the more acute clients.

“It’s partly staff security and safety,” he said in response to a question from Coun. Doug Hillian at Monday’s meeting.

To ensure supportive housing can be sustained on a long-term, financially viable basis, Jessup advocates the use of rent supplements, capital grants and public-private partnerships.

BC Housing has made $50,000 available in the form of a loan but has indicated no operating subsidies will be available.

Jessup feels it is critical to approach Rich Coleman, Minister Responsible for Housing.

“The issue is the operating subsidy,” said Jessup, who would not recommend a supportive housing project without proper financial support.

Aside from provincial capital grants, he said the City could apply to the Real Estate Foundation, which also has a capital program.

Council approved a motion from Bill Anglin to meet with Comox Valley MLA Don McRae to communicate with Coleman about the need for operating funds before proceeding with an RFP.

Council referred to staff information about a program in Campbell River that provided 16 beds to homeless individuals in the winter. They were housed in shipping containers converted into suites.

“I believe this was an innovative, cost-effective program,” Jessup said. “They never turned anybody away.”

The program cost about $10,000 per month.


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