Women's housing project announced for Sechelt

A new project to build between 30 and 35 units of affordable, long-term housing for women and children in Sechelt has been announced by BC Housing, in partnership with the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society (SCCSS).

“It really gives us the opportunity to meet the need on the Coast in a comprehensive way, tapping into the experience and knowledge we have,”SCCSS executive director Catherine Leach told Coast Reporter at an open house held at the society’s headquarters days before the Nov. 25 announcement.

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The society submitted its initial proposal to BC Housing last fall.

The building site is located on property owned by the SCCSS at 5638 Inlet Ave. in Sechelt. In addition to residential units, the six-storey mixed-use development would also house the majority of SCCSS programs running in Sechelt on the first two floors.

That includes services for children and families, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, counselling, outreach programs, volunteer and housing, as well as new food security programming. Behind the complex would be a community garden and outdoor space for a variety of uses to create a community hub.

The Ministry of Housing is expected to provide funding to build the residential units, though a dollar figure hasn’t been released. SCCSS plans to spend its own money, as well as seek out other funding sources for the $18 million project, and a fundraising capital campaign is also in the works.

According to the SCCSS, the development will improve safety and security in the neighbourhood “through thoughtful design that will increase lighting, improve the pedestrian walkway, increase organized activities and build connection between neighbours.”

As for the tenants, priority would be given to Sunshine Coast residents or to those “who were forced to leave the Sunshine Coast in search of safe, affordable housing, but who still have family and support networks on the Coast,”according to the SCCS.

“We’re looking at having youth who are in youth agreements, women who are working [and] women with two or more children who need three-bedroom units, seniors who are on fixed income,”said Leach.

SCCSS already operates three multi-unit housing projects, including Yew Transition House, Thyme Second Stage and Legacy housing projects, but none are of this scale, and this will be the first time the society will be providing a landlord-tenant arrangement.

The need for stable housing for women on the Sunshine Coast is great, said Leach. A 2017 report on hidden homelessness found that 40 per cent of women over the age of 50 on the Sunshine Coast reported they were not safely housed. That report and other SCCSS findings as well as provincial data informed the society’s application.

But before the project can move forward, more approvals are needed.

The society plans to submit a rezoning application to the District of Sechelt by the end of this year, and a development application is expected to be submitted by spring 2020, which will need to be approved by Sechelt council and BC Housing.

Construction could be completed about a year and a half after the building permit has been submitted.

While SCCSS will be seeking to allow for the creation of a six-storey building, current zoning allows for buildings with up to three storeys. It will also be applying to reduce the current bylaw requirements of 48 parking stalls to between 40 and 42.

This is one of 11 transition, second-stage and affordable housing projects announced by Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and Mitzi Dean, parliamentary secretary for Gender Equity, on Monday in Victoria. Combined the projects will create 260 spaces for women and children.

The projects are part of an investment of $734 million over 10 years to build 1,500 homes with supports for women and children leaving violence. “We are playing catch up when it comes to building homes for women, an area that was neglected for more than two decades,” Robinson said during the Victoria announcement.

“No one should ever have to choose between staying in a violent or abusive situation or facing homelessness.”

Nov. 25 is the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

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