Saanich has received an offer of provincial help to create modular housing for the individuals living in the tent city in Regina Park near Uptown.
This offer (whose value currently lacks a precise dollar figure) comes under the framework of the Rapid Response to Homelessness program, a program of $291 million over two years to build 2,000 modular supportive housing units.
“The [ministry] and [B.C. Housing] recognize the growing impact of homelessness in the region and around the entire province, and reached out to the District of Saanich to offer our assistance through new supportive housing funds such as our Rapid Response to Homelessness program,” said Melanie Kirkpatrick, a public affairs officer, with the ministry, when asked about the offer.
It is not clear yet at this stage how Saanich will respond to it, with Saanich remaining coy.
”All I can share at this time is that discussions with [B.C. Housing] in regards to supportive housing are ongoing,” said Megan Catalano, a Saanich spokesperson.
According to background information from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the province approached Saanich on June 28, expressing interest in working with Saanich to create housing for the people at the Regina Park camp. It popped up in May and currently houses 75 individuals.
B.C. Housing, according to the background information, is now waiting for a follow-up meeting with Saanich, “after which it is anticipated that there will be a more fulsome response to this [offer].”
Such a meeting would presumably address key issues such as the scope and location of any future modular housing, on the assumption that Saanich will join — albeit out of immediate need — a small but growing number of participating municipalities.
Saanich’s reluctance to discuss the provincial offer is understandable, against the backdrop of controversies in other communities that have been working with province on bringing modular housing to their respective communities.
Both Vancouver and Richmond have faced considerable push-back from residents fearful about the potential effects of living near populations dealing with various vulnerabilities. Residents in those communities have expressed the fear that modular housing might attract not only other homeless individuals, but also criminals.
As the date of the municipal election on Oct. 20 approaches, the question of where Saanich might place any future modular housing project could easily become a wedge issue. Of course, this assumes that Saanich can or has already found a suitable piece of property, no small feat by any measure.
Under the modular housing program, municipalities contribute land on which the modular housing would appear. While municipalities typically own this land, provincial officials have said this not a strict requirement of the program.
Saanich, in other course, could lease land. This would likely increase the range of available options, and recent comments from Coun. Colin Plant have intensified speculations about a vacant lot on Tolmie Avenue.
Once participating communities have identified suitable land, it may take any amount of time for the actual units to appear.
Factors that impact build time include the availability of a site, its zoning, and whether it requires any improvements among other factors, according to the provided background information. Once construction begins, it roughly takes eight to 10 weeks to complete the work.
Saanich, if it participates, could make additional contributions to the project by waiving development cost charges, building and development permit fees, and taxes.
While not a requirement, but most municipalities participating in the modular program have provided these waivers, according to the province.
The province, meanwhile, would cover capital and operating costs for the housing units.