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Housing plan held up by lack of city support, says non-profit director
The executive director of a local non-profit housing group says a plan to develop 20 new affordable housing units is in limbo because the city turned down its application for a community grant to help plan the project.
Carol Sabo wants to expand Ksan Society's affordable housing strategy to include the construction of packaged housing units. According to her plan, eight would be rented at market price and be made available to households that earn below $64,000 and 12 would be rented at a fixed rate based on income assistance levels.
“Our community is in a period of extreme growth,” said Sabo in her proposal. “People on fixed incomes are in dire situations.”
The two and three-bedroom single-storey rental houses would be of the prefab variety, constructed at an estimated cost of $90,000 each, said Sabo. To get the construction done cheaply, she said she envisions launching a community initiative relying on a large volunteer base to assemble the packaged housing, possibly in conjunction with construction classes offered at Northwest Community College.
Sabo first presented floor plans and a budget to council back on November 14 of last year, along with a request that the city enter into a long-term lease agreement with Ksan for city lands for 35 years and pledge to rezone the land if necessary in order to allow for the multi-family residential units.
One site for Ksan's potential development is a section of city land on the north side of Haugland Ave. between Hall and Evergreen streets, just south of the current Ksan headquarters.
She also applied for $10,000 in community grant money from the city to pay for the completion of the planning phase with an eye to begin building as soon as possible.
But she says her plans stalled when the grant application was turned down by staff and council in December.
Councillor Stacey Tyers argued at the time that giving Ksan $10,000 would set a precedent whereby other developers would come knocking for money to help them with their own plans.
“Something like this makes me nervous,” said councillor Stacey Tyers at the Dec. 2 budget meeting. “Because it isn't subsidized and it isn't low income. It's affordable, and I respect that, but it opens us up to every developer to come ask for money for feasibility studies.”
While Tyers argued that the city would more wisely finance subsidized housing, Sabo now says that Ksan is in effect self-subsidizing the project through its volunteer effort and cost-effective, not-for-profit strategy.
The city does give Ksan a property tax break for their transition house and emergency shelters as well as pool pass discounts for their employees and subsidized lease rate for a garden area.
Mayor David Pernarowski said at the December meeting he wanted the project to be further along before supporting it financially through a community grant.
Now, two-and-a-half months later, Sabo said she has been unable to further the project along because Ksan doesn't have the resources in terms of labour time to put towards the necessary strategic legwork.
“I don't feel they are being as supportive as they could,” Sabo said about her current arrangements with the city. “The reason we were disappointed at the decision to turn down the grant was because the $10,000 was supposed to go to hire someone to help us with the project. Now it's going to drag out. We applied to CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) who would normally say yes but they are out of money this year.”
She said the city shouldn't wait around for government dollars and should support projects like the one she is proposing.
“We can't lean on the province. We have to do something differently,” said Sabo.
City planner David Block said details still need to be worked out about Ksan leasing city land, and that he is contact with Sabo regarding her plans.
“The lease rate would be low even if it was based on land value,” he said of a potential deal to lease land to the society. “This will need to be negotiated and determined by council in the future.”
Block added that the proposal for the development needs to be elaborated.
“Ksan needs to do some work to develop the proposal and site layout and servicing are key design items that have not been completed yet,” he said.
The city did grant money to another non-profit housing group, with $5,000 going to the Terrace and District Christian Council to proceed with the expansion Senior Citizen Residence residence at 4623 Tuck Ave. that will add several more units to the existing complex. This is also a volunteer driven project.