The District of Central Saanich is asking the province for additional assurances about a supportive housing project with one councillor openly questioning it.
A letter drafted by Coun. Niall Paltiel, signed by Mayor Ryan Windsor on behalf of council and passed unanimously earlier this month, highlights four broad categories of concern around plans by BC Housing to build 39 supportive units in the 1900-block of Prosser Road.
The concerns include the nature of actions planned to build community confidence; the need for transparency in the process used by BC Housing to select the future operator tasked with running the facility; the availability of supports for current and future residents; and commitment to ongoing neighbourhood and municipal responsiveness.
“The fundamental philosophy of the District of Central Saanich is to create a healthy, sustainable and safe community in which citizens have the opportunity to thrive,” said Windsor. He added that the municipality wants to make sure the project “gains social licence within the local neighbourhood and is contextual to the neighbourhood and our municipal, emergency services and healthcare resources.”
While the letter does not take definitive position for or against the proposal, it includes comments critical of BC Housing.
“Concerns about public safety and neighbourhood security remain unanswered and must be addressed,” it reads. “We know there are successful supportive housing projects and failures, so we need to be realistic in addressing the issues. When residents move in next year, will they be greeted by the community with fear or welcomed as neighbours? The choice belongs with BC Housing.”
Paltiel said the letter gives the province an opportunity to address the concerns of the community and council. “At the end of the day, this is about supporting the neighbourhood and the neighbours in Saanichton and Central Saanich.”
Based on his observations of the neighbourhood, Paltiel said a more contextual outcome for the site would be housing for individuals, possibly people aged 55 and up, who do not require significant monitoring or support, noting later this reflects his personal position.
“Ultimately, picking up people from (downtown Victoria) and moving them, which is everybody’s concern, is not going to mean success for those residents. And I definitely do not think it means success for our existing residents in the neighbourhood as well.”
Paltiel said the necessary resources for mental health and addiction issues are not necessarily available in Central Saanich. “So it’s my concern that the province’s housing-first approach in this instance is looking a lot a like a housing-only approach.”
The province and BC Housing are committed to being good neighbours, according to a ministry spokesperson in a lengthy statement to Black Press Media.
“We understand that the community has questions about how the Prosser Rd. building will operate. BC Housing has been hosting virtual community engagement sessions to address neighbourhood concerns and will continue to hold these sessions in the lead up to the building’s opening.”
The statement noted an operator for the site has not yet been selected but Central Saanich is welcome to participate in the evaluation committee.
“It is our experience that after a few months, residents stabilize and public disturbances decrease dramatically. We know from evidence in B.C. and internationally that communities are safer and healthier when people have housing and the supports they need,” the spokesperson said, citing a building on the Lower Mainland where residents voiced concern over proximity to schools, but the crime rate dropped 24 per cent.
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