As privately owned low-income housing appears to dissipate from Penticton, city hall and the province are working to add more public units.
Construction is well underway on “family-oriented” affordable housing on Backstreet Boulevard, and shovels hit the ground this month on moderate-income housing on Brunswick Avenue.
“The two projects we have downtown provide low-income opportunities and rental opportunities, which is great for downtown and people who are working downtown,” City of Penticton development services director Anthony Haddad said. “So there’s a number of different initiatives and approvals that have been put in place to deal with the housing crunch that we see right now.”
Both of those projects, adding up to 96 units, will be run by B.C. Housing, which will be looking at “a range of different incomes,” Haddad said.
But when it comes to those most precariously housed — people currently living in places like the Mayfair, Meadowlark and Sun Valley motels on Skaha Lake Road that were recently bought by developers — finding new housing comes with their own struggles.
“As our community gets redeveloped, we are losing some of the lower end of the rental spectrum within the community,” said Linda Sankey, South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society executive director. “Which is placing some hardships on people who are having fewer options to choose from with a growing number of people needing that low-end-of-market rental option.”
Since the development of the Fairhaven complex at the former Bel-Air Motel, which is aimed at some of the most vulnerable individuals, city hall has been working with B.C. Housing to add more to the affordable housing market.
The former Super 8, now called Compass Court, was intended to open 42 units of social housing by spring, but Haddad said B.C. Housing now expects the complex to open up in the fall.
It’s intended to combine services, including housing, temporary extreme weather shelter and mental health supports from Interior Health after some complications at Fairhaven.
The Western News has reached out for comment from B.C. Housing on Compass Court and other housing projects and when they are expected to open, but did not receive a response as of publication.
City hall is looking at one more option for social housing, which would be aimed at those experiencing homelessness. After the B.C. government announced more than 2,000 units of social housing — built by modular design, making for faster construction — the city sought, and was approved for, 52 units.
But the idea isn’t entirely guaranteed just yet. The proposal, which would consolidate a vacant lot on Green Avenue with transitional housing already in place at Skaha Sunrise, went to council last week to be directed to a public hearing on May 22, where it received some resistance.
Combined, Skaha Sunrise and the modular units would provide 98 units of transitional housing, 46 of which are already in place, next door to Unity House, a meeting place run by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
However, some councillors did express concern for the proposal’s proximity to Princess Margaret Secondary and Skaha Lake Secondary schools, among other concerns. Coun. Campbell Watt suggested people may be “taking advantage of the system because it is becoming so good.”
“That’s a positive thing, don’t get me wrong. Well, maybe they have to shovel sidewalks in the winter to earn their credits,” Watt said.
Coun. Max Picton suggested people could be moving to Penticton because of services offered in town.
“I’m not comparing people to animals, but you’ve all heard the saying ‘don’t feed the wildlife because it creates dependency,’” he said.
“To me the problem’s getting worse, even though we are continually funding these projects, we’re continually allowing these developments to move forward, and I’m not seeing progress in reduction on the streets.”
While council has approved some initiatives, none of the four major projects has come online since Fairhaven. And Coun. Judy Sentes pointed out that a City of Penticton symposium on homelessness countered Picton’s assertion.
“Over and over, the service providers insisted that these are our homeless, they are not importing, if you will,” Sentes said.
What’s more, while those housing projects have largely been in response to homelessness or a housing crunch from the past — a housing needs assessment called for nearly 300 new units of affordable housing — it doesn’t take into account issues like a potential closure of three motels that have traditionally supplied low-income housing.
And each of these projects take time. Compass Court isn’t expected until fall and if the modular project goes without delay, it is anticipated to be completed in the winter. Backstreet Boulevard, though it is making progress, isn’t expected until spring next year, and Brunswick Avenue isn’t expected to open until fall 2019.
Even when new housing projects come online, many homeless or those in precarious housing situations say it is a struggle to actually get into housing. A man who lives in the Sun Valley motel told the Western News he has been on the B.C. Housing list for two years.
Haddad said things like evictions at the Delta Mobile Home Park and concerns of gentrification at the three Skaha Lake Road motels do add some urgency to the city’s own work.
“For sure. From the city’s point of view, we’re doing a lot to improve the processing times to approve new housing in the community, which I think that has been a positive in the last year,” Haddad said.
“Just making sure they’re a right fit for certain areas and balancing the need to provide housing has always been a high priority for our community.”