If all goes well, construction should start on 52 units of modular housing in Penticton by mid-2018.
“This is a rapid response to homelessness, so the provincial government in pushing hard to get this in place as soon as they can,” said city planning manager Blake Laven.
Recent studies have shown the problems Penticton is facing with non-market housing and entry-level rentals.
The city’s 2016 housing market assessment showed an immediate shortage of 240 units of non-market housing and a longer-term deficit of another 400 units of non-market housing.
Laven explained that non-market housing includes a wide group of people whose limited income prevents them from accessing the regular housing market: homeless, but also single parents and others with low incomes, people with disabilities.
The group 100 Homes Penticton was also surveying the problem, including connecting creating a housing registry of every homeless person in Penticton, starting in November 2016.
Over 200 people were interviewed, with 128 people fitting the definition of homeless, and 75 being chronically homeless. The problem was a lot bigger than anybody realized or expected,” said Laven.
The community response to the problem, he continued, has helped reduce that. Preliminary results from this year’s survey are encouraging.
“This year, there were only 92 persons interviewed … and only 76 of those were experiencing homelessness,” said Laven. “There are still too many people experiencing homelessness in Penticton.
Council voted unanimously to endorse a Memorandum of Understanding from the B.C. Housing Authority, and get the ball rolling on the 52 units of modular housing, part of a provincial initiative to address housing issues.
Some councillors were concerned that there would still be room for negotiation with the housing authority unlike with the conversion of the old Super 8 motel into social housing.
“By the time it came to council the project was so far along that we had no choice but to see it through,” said Coun. Max Picton.
Though he approved on the project, he wanted to ensure the city had input into placement and other factors.
Laven reassured council the intent of the MOU was not to put the city in that position but to work collaboratively for finding an appropriate spot.
Next year will also see the start of construction on the affordable housing project on Brunswick Street, which the city signed an agreement with the province for in 2015.
“They’re in the process of just revising that design on that building and should be under construction in February or March of 2018,” said Anthony Haddad, director of development services. “The project is still moving ahead, and we look forward to seeing it under construction early next year.”
That project will create 67 units of affordable housing, aimed at young families and people with moderate incomes.
City council also approved a plan to help ensure Penticton is ready and waiting when funding for further provincial and federal governments housing programs are announced.
Staff suggested using funds from the city’s $160,000 Affordable Housing Reserve Fund to establish a program to assist local not-for-profit housing providers in preparing for expected provincial and federal housing funding announcements.
“Suffice it to say, there will be substantial opportunities for senior government investment in housing in B.C.,” reads Laven’s report to council. “In speaking with B.C. Housing staff familiar with the situation in Penticton, the feeling is that Penticton needs to be well prepared to respond to the various expected funding announcements. This is an issue the city has, and should continue, to take leadership on.”
The new program will see cities partnering with local groups, providing seed funding to hire development consultants, a specialist who provides development assistance and advice to not-for-profit housing providers, who generally specialize in operating housing, not developing it. The goal of the program is to have shovel-ready Penticton projects when funding announcements are made.
City staff are anticipating grants of up to $5,000 per housing provider, but there is no estimate of the total cost of the program at this point.