On the corner of Gorge Road East and Caroll Street are two old, blue buildings that used to be a motel. They now serve as Cedar Grove, a 22-unit supportive housing complex for Victoria’s Cool Aid Society that will soon receive a $17.5 million renovation.
While funding and rezoning applications are still being processed, the society says the largest obstacle to get shovels in the ground goes beyond paperwork.
“The thing that will slow us down before money is being able to find a suitable location for our 22 tenants,” said Alan Rycroft, community relations manager for Cool Aid. “Renovictions happen all over Victoria… but Cool Aid isn’t going to make anyone homeless.”
The renovation will transform the complex from motel remnants to a new complex of 32 supportive housing units and 50 affordable housing units.
The tenants are made up of six women and 16 men, who need varying degrees of support for issues ranging from poverty to addictions and mental health challenges. Each resident currently pays $375 per month in rent.
In order to keep the tenants feeling like they belong in a community, Cool Aid’s largest priority is to keep them together when they move, and because of the varied resources for low-income individuals in Victoria, the ideal location would also be near the downtown core.
“It’s really hard, because the market is tough in real estate,” Rycroft said.
While many avenues have been explored, at this point no strong contenders have come forward. Rycroft is hoping that perhaps Cool Aid could rent out an entire floor of a large building, but realizes the potential for problems are not dissimilar to those found at their current location.
The motel-style entryways into each apartment give Cool Aid little control over who goes in and out of the buildings, Rycroft said. It’s one component of the current setup that’s caused many tenants and neighbours distress.
“It’s pretty rowdy here sometimes. Police are here constantly dealing with people, and every once in awhile there’s a bug infestation,” said Darren, a Cedar Grove resident who only wanted to provide his first name.
Darren has lived at Cedar Groves for five years on disability, and said that while he sticks to himself, he knows that most of the issues don’t actually come from residents.
“A lot of people come in here who don’t actually live here, and transfer the bugs… It’s mostly those people who cause the problems,” he said.
The new design is slated to have a single entryway that requires people to be buzzed in. This would also help senior supportive housing worker Robert Jarvis keep track of the activity at Cedar Grove.
“We’re trying to give people the privacy they want, but at the same time monitor what’s going on,” Jarvis said. “It has its challenges.”
Once a new, temporary home has been established for Cedar Grove residents, Cool Aid will pay for the move, maintain their current rent rate and give tenants priority for the right to refusal once the new facility is ready. Tenants will also continue to pay the same rent in the new building.
When asked if he’d consider moving back to Cedar Groves after the two-year construction period was complete, Darren was hesitant, saying a lot could happen in two years.
“It’s an option, but I don’t know if I’ll be in a position to move again when that time comes around,” he said. “But, I’d definitely look into it.”
Cedar Grove is still in the approval process, but has received funding from some levels of government, as well as a private $450,000 donation from the Sisters of Saint Ann’s. On Thursday, the City of Victoria voted to put $600,000 toward the proposed 50 affordable housing units with a caveat that all zoning applications must be approved before funding is received.