Mount Ed­wards so­cial hous­ing views di­verge at hear­ing

Times Colonist - - The Capital And Vancouver Island - CINDY E. HARNETT and BILL CLEVERLEY ce­har­nett@times­colonist.com

A pro­posal to re­zone Mount Ed­wards Court for sup­port­ive so­cial hous­ing drew strong ar­gu­ments for and against dur­ing a packed pub­lic hear­ing in Vic­to­ria on Thurs­day night.

The for­mer se­niors care home, at 1002 Van­cou­ver St., is cur­rently be­ing used as tran­si­tional hous­ing for for­mer res­i­dents of the tent city, hous­ing 38 peo­ple at a time.

The re­zon­ing pro­posal put for­ward by the Vic­to­ria Cool Aid So­ci­ety, on be­half of B.C. Hous­ing, would per­mit 78 sup­port­ive hous­ing units and 15 af­ford­able ren­tal hous­ing units. A le­gal agree­ment would man­date the fa­cil­ity be re­stricted to res­i­dents 50 years and older, with no il­licit sub­stance use per­mit­ted. It would be staffed around the clock.

Cool Aid says only those with low-to-mod­er­ate sup­port re­quire­ments will be ad­mit­ted.

Mayor Lisa Helps has called the pro­posal a good fit for the com­mu­nity, in that it would ba­si­cally house “poor se­niors who have had some health chal­lenges.”

Helps tried to fo­cus de­bate Thurs­day on what the project will be, rather than what it is now.

Paul Christo­pher, a vol­un­teer street outreach worker, said: “I’m all for this de­vel­op­ment, the way it is now and the way it’s go­ing to be.”

Christo­pher said he ex­pected to hear a lot of “not in my back­yard talk” dur­ing the pub­lic hear­ing. While the sup­port­ive hous­ing’s lo­ca­tion near an ele­men­tary school is not ideal, he said, money avail­able through the prov­ince can al­le­vi­ate con­cerns.

“This de­vel­op­ment is go­ing to work,” he said.

Of­fi­cials for pri­vate ele­men­tary school Christ Church Cathe­dral School have said en­rol­ment has plum­meted af­ter in­ci­dents such as an in­di­vid­ual run­ning round the school­yard in a drug-in­duced delir­ium and the pres­ence, at times, of drug users in the school park­ing lot.

Christ Church Cathe­dral School of­fi­cials and par­ents of stu­dents have spo­ken out against the pro­posal.

Head of school Stu­art Hall told the pub­lic hear­ing “our fo­cus has al­ways been the safety of the chil­dren.”

The den­sity of the project is too large, dou­ble the ca­pac­ity of what is con­sid­ered ideal for this type of hous­ing, he said, say­ing he is con­cerned that mech­a­nisms for ad­dress­ing con­cerns and ac­count­abil­ity are lack­ing.

He asked coun­cil to con­sider do­ing what’s best to en­sure the neigh­bour­hood re­mains safe.

Michael Geoghe­gan, a govern­ment and me­dia re­la­tions con­sul­tant, said he has friends whose chil­dren at­tend Christ Church Cathe­dral School and ar­gued that putting sup­port­ive hous­ing be­side an ele­men­tary school is in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

“I fail to see why we are rolling the dice here,” Geoghe­gan said. “It’s crim­i­nally ir­re­spon­si­ble to put hous­ing like this next to an ele­men­tary school.”

He sug­gested that “some­one is go­ing to be badly hurt” if the project goes ahead.

“Is it worth the risk to th­ese chil­dren?”

The for­mer se­niors care home near Rock­land Av­enue was pur­chased by the prov­ince for $3.65 mil­lion in 2016 in the wake of the tent city that had dug in on the court­house lawn, to help ad­dress the home­less­ness is­sue.

I fail to see why we are rolling the dice here. It’s crim­i­nally ir­re­spon­si­ble to put hous­ing like this next to an ele­men­tary school. — Michael Geoghe­gan, con­sul­tant

DAR­REN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Mount Ed­wards Court on Van­cou­ver Street.

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