CRD, province take new approach to housing homeless

Thirty-million-dollars in provincial funding will be used to create affordable housing for the population that is most in need.

Thirty-million-dollars in provincial funding will be used to create affordable housing for the population that is most in need, which could include youth, seniors or the chronically homeless, according to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

Earlier this week, the provincial government announced a new agreement with the Capital Regional District (CRD) called the Housing First Initiative to create new affordable housing projects for homeless people throughout the region. The province has committed up to $30 million in capital funding, with a matching contribution from the CRD for a total of $60 million.

As part of the agreement, Island Health will also provide mental health and addiction services where supports are required. The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness will be responsible for developing the plan and identifying the population that’s most in need of housing.

“This partnership is an important milestone recognizing the financial and health support services needed to support the goal to sustainably reduce homelessness in the Capital Region by 2018,” said CRD board chair and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.

Requests for proposals will go out once a year, with the first one going out to the housing sector in October, based on the region’s immediate housing needs, identified by the coalition. Funds will be dispersed once a year for the next five years, so each project will receive roughly $12 million.

According to Helps, who is also the co-chair of the coalition to end homelessness, the initiative changes how the region looks at housing projects.

“Part of what’s happened is housing providers have come forward with projects they have or land’s that’s been made available. They’ve been driving the housing based on what projects they come forward with and that is awesome, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “What we’re doing with this housing first strategy is flipping it on its head, we’re saying what is the need and we’re going to build housing for that need.”

The coalition recently released its Point in Time Count, which identified more than 1,300 people who are experiencing homelessness in the region, roughly 200 of whom are kids under the age of 18.

“That might mean that we need to build some family housing. Will it be all bachelor suites? No. Will it be all three bedroom suites? No. The type of housing will be based on the need determined by the coalition,” Helps said

It will be up to the housing sector to be innovative when it comes to projects to build as many units as possible for the amount of money allocated.

The CRD is also looking to the federal government for another $30 million in funding and Helps is hopeful the government will step up.

“I think there’s a very good chance they will because this is a very innovative approach we’ve taken. It’s probably unprecedented where the whole region comes together and says we’re going to borrow enough to build housing as long as the other players come to the table,” she said.