A forum to address housing needs in the Alberni Valley and to help plan for future projects and services was hosted by the Alberni Valley Community Stakeholders Initiative to End Homelessness (AVCSI) on Wednesday, May 17.
The event was sponsored by BC Healthy Communities and the Alberni-Clayoquot Health Network and offered a panel of speakers who shared their insights on various forms of housing needs and initiatives.
Port Alberni city councillor Ron Paulson spoke on Alberni Low Energy Housing Society initiatives.
Being a fairly new organization, Paulson said the overall vision of the society is two-fold—retrofitting existing buildings to become energy efficient and affordable, and working on new builds.
“A new build would be a leading technology; keeping it in the low energy end of this keeps the operation of the building at low cost so you can actually have low-income housing,” Paulson said.
Although new builds are a future goal for the society, Paulson said they would be unique in that clients could actually invest in the building by helping with construction or other maintenance.
“They can be a part of the project themselves and eventually they and their family can move into that development but also gain some skill which may enable them to enter the work force,” he said.
The society has purchased an 11-unit apartment building near the old Alberni District Secondary School site that they plan to renovate to become low energy and affordable for low-income individuals.
“With the help of BC Housing Management Corporation we’ve received a grant to keep our mortgage payment within reason, but also to assist us in the retrofit of this building to make sure that it becomes energy efficient,” Paulson said. “At the end of the day the tenants will have private ownership as well and we’re excited about getting to that point.”
Greg Vander Kooi, support worker at Mountainside Support Services in Port Alberni, spoke about micro-homes and how they can offer homeless or low-income individuals an affordable space of their own.
“I think importantly [micro homes] provide independence and security for those individuals that are able to house themselves,” Vander Kooi said.
Councillor Sharie Minions said the City of Port Alberni is not currently working on any type of tiny home initiatives.
“I think it’s a great concept but as our status right now we’re not working on a project like this,” Minions said. “Two things that we are working on is updating our secondary suite bylaw as well as adding a bylaw for secondary structures on properties. Trying to make it easier for people to create suites in their homes because that’s a huge asset in terms of affordable housing.”
Representatives from Naniamo’s John Howard Society spoke about their “housing first” initiatives.
Housing first is a client-centered and recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness. There are no requirements for housing readiness, compliance to medication, or sobriety. Their philosophy is that adequate housing is a precondition for recovery.
“The most effective approach to housing a person permanently, is to just put them in housing and give them permanent stable housing that’s going to be well supported so they’re going to have every chance for success,” said John McCormick, John Howard executive director. “We are currently still in the learning phase of our housing first project, we don’t know everything about it. We are entering in a process now being able to evaluate some of what we would consider successes or challenges that we face.”
Senior and First Nation housing initiatives were also discussed by panel members.
The forum allowed the AVCSI to acquire information on what is needed in terms of housing in the Alberni Valley.
Current goals for the group include having enough and the right mix of housing units across the continuum for Valley residents, more community members earning above the poverty line, informed decision-making by politicians, funders, service providers and the public. In addition they hope to have a sustainable and increasingly self-reliant funding model to support their efforts, housing and services.
According to the AVCSI, current factors causing housing challenges and homelessness in the Alberni Valley include shrinking rental markets, rapidly deteriorating social housing, declining wages, inadequate social assistance, rising rental costs and wealth inequality.
A full report on the AVCSI’s 10-year strategic plan to house the community and end homelessness can be found at www.acrd.bc.a/achn-links.
AVCSI project coordinator Terry Deakin said she was pleased with the amount of people who attended the housing forum and with the quality of the speakers. She plans to compile all the information that came from the forum and bring it forward to the AVCSI to decide what their next goals are.