Penticton’s Bel-Air Motel has a new name and a new lease on life as affordable rental housing.
The Province of B.C. purchased the 42-unit motel and plans renovating it to provide safe and secure housing for people in need who are able to live independently. It will be renamed Fairhaven, in honour of a local peach variety.
“Personally, I think it is a very suitable name,” said Penticton MLA Dan Ashton, noting the importance of independent living.
“Independence makes a difference in a person’s life and gives them an opportunity to step up and step forward.”
Units are expected to be available in late fall of this year, in contrast to building from scratch, which might take years to bring a project online.
“By purchasing existing buildings, we are able to provide safe and comfortable homes in a shorter period of time than construction of new buildings,” said Ashton. “There are substantial structures here, but they need a little bit of TLC to bring them up to a class so people can call these homes.”
Affordable housing is a concern for many people, said Penticton’s Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, referencing the city’s affordable housing task force, and listing some of the other affordable housing projects in the pipeline.
“We made an announcement for 72 units that are going to be built on Brunswick Street. Council recently approved a 99-apartment building block on Duncan Avenue,” said Jakubeit. “But we have never really focused, and we certainly know there is a need and a demand, to address perhaps the most disadvantaged citizens … those who are homeless or are at risk of homelessness.
The Bel-Air has six existing tenants, who will not be asked to leave. B.C. Housing will be managing the site, and on-site staff will be working with the tenants to link them with offsite services offered in the community.
“There will be substantial savings going forward. It’s about $650 (per month) going down to $475,” said Penticton MLA Dan Ashton. “We’re trying to make sure people have a place to call home and can get that one foot forward. With the help of all the community support Penticton has, it does make a difference, instead of just a place to sleep at night.”
Another difference, according to Coun. Judy Sentes, who chairs the affordable housing task force, is a community kitchen. Some of the renovated units will be a bit larger and feature a fridge and microwave oven, but the others will be studio apartments.
“So the community kitchen provides some camaraderie and some ability to work together with groceries and preparation of meals,” said Sentes, noting the importance of the social aspect.
Jakubeit said it is hard to say just how big the problem of people who are homeless or at-risk is in Penticton.
“I think there is anecdotal numbers of 40 to 80, it varies. Some are couch surfers, so you don’t see them on the street. Those are harder to document, but they don’t have a permanent home,” he said. “I think it is clear to say that there is need. The Soupateria serves a minimum 100 meals a day, that is one indicator of not necessarily homelessness, but people who are struggling to make ends meet.”
Last year, the province provided $1.3 million to support 145 housing units for homeless people, including 12 year-round homeless shelter spaces, almost 90 subsidized or supportive units for homeless or at risk individuals and 44 homeless rent supplements.
In the case of Fairhaven, the federal and provincial governments made an combined investment of $3.2 million for the purchase and renovation of the motel.