Affordable Housing Society looks for funding to hire staff

The Sunshine Coast Affordable Housing Society (SCAHS) is hoping local governments will help cover the cost of hiring professional staff to manage two ongoing projects and new projects and initiatives down the road.

Kayla Feenstra, one of the society’s vice chairs, made presentations to both Sechelt and Gibsons councils this month and will also be taking the society’s request to the Sunshine Coast Regional District.

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In a letter accompanying Feenstra’s Sept. 4 presentation to Sechelt council, she said, “The SCAHS board is firmly committed in 2019 and going forward to formalize our structure, improve our procedures, and develop formalized strategic plans,” and that the all-volunteer board can only do that with the addition of an executive director and a project manager.

The draft budget for hiring an executive director and project manager is roughly $36,000 for the remainder of 2019 and $146,000 for 2020 and 2021.

The society is asking Sechelt for $20,000 in 2019 and $50,000 for 2020.

Feenstra told Gibsons councillors at their Sept. 17 meeting that the society would be asking the town for similar amounts. “I’d love to see the Town of Gibsons pitch in the rest, because our projects right now are strictly in Gibsons.”

Those projects include a home with a secondary suite and a garden suite on a property at 744 Franklin Rd. and a proposed 70-unit apartment complex on town-owned land at 751 Shaw Rd.

“Our goal by the end of 2020 is to have actual rents being collected from our projects, and then we’ll have a sustainability plan,” Feenstra said. Finalizing that plan would be one of the tasks that would fall on the society’s professional staff.

The society is also hoping to host a housing conference, involving “all major organizations and key partners,” in 2021.

Feenstra noted the town has already contributed a “huge amount” of in-kind support that includes land, and advice from planning department staff, and said the society will be looking to its other, non-government partners for funding as well.

“I’ve also recommended to the board that we not take on any other capital projects until we hire [staff]. I don’t feel it’s responsible to increase our risk until we have proper staff in place.”

Gibsons councillors referred the request to the finance department for a report.

A similar report was presented to Sechelt council on Sept. 18 by director of financial services David Douglas.

Douglas recommended that before making a decision, council draft a bylaw that would lay out guidelines for using the money in the district’s affordable housing reserve fund, the most likely source of funding for SCAHS.

“We need to define how we want to push the money out to the community,” Douglas said. “That gives us a definition of what types of expenses, what kinds of projects, what kinds of things council would like to see this money go towards.”

Coun. Matt McLean argued for a timely decision in order to “add capacity to the whole affordable housing community” on the Sunshine Coast.

“During our election last year, housing was one of the top issues. It’s one of the ones the community looked to us to take some action on. A year later we haven’t done much,” he said. “We can do this now, or we can do this in May after the budget has passed. That’s another half year away. It’s another half year of people living without homes, people struggling to get by. We could start taking action now.”

Douglas said his department could have a bylaw ready for council’s first meeting in October, and they could decide on funding for this year soon afterwards and deal with the 2020 funding as part of the budget process.

The recommendation passed with unanimous support.

Meanwhile, the society’s largest project, the Shaw Road apartments in Gibsons, went to public hearing Sept. 19.

About 30 people attended the hearing, and of the seven who spoke, all supported the project, although there were suggestions to find ways to make the project more child-friendly and include ground-floor units that would be suitable to operate a small private daycare from.

Former councillor Silas White, who continues to work on affordable housing issues, also urged council not to place any restrictions on who could be considered as tenants through moves such as holding a certain percentage of the units for seniors, and allow the society, as landlord, to make the final decisions.

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