A request by Lisa Helps to revisit the possibility of using Oak Bay Lodge as a temporary shelter for residents 55 and older has been turned down.
On Wednesday, members of the Capital Regional District’s hospitals and housing committee defended BC Housing’s stated reasons for rejecting the Lodge for that purpose, among them the building’s poor condition and the difficulty in removing a restrictive covenant on the property that limits its use to a retirement home.
As well, Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch made an impassioned plea to allow his municipality to begin its scheduled consultation and long-term planning process for the site, due to get underway in two weeks.
Helps, the Victoria mayor and committee chair, asked whether there was any way to work within the existing covenants. She said the term assisted living didn’t exist when the retirement home covenant was put in place in 1971, and that a temporary shelter for older residents could resemble that level of care.
While a staff report based partially on a facility tour indicated the buildings are past their useful life, and that “remediation would equal or exceed the costs of building a new facility,” Helps suggested Oak Bay Lodge is still in better condition than at least one Victoria shelter.
The conditions at the former Boys and Girls Club on Yates Street, which is home to 50 residents aged 55-over who are at risk of homelessness, are “dividers and cots,” she said.
“If those people could move into the Oak Bay Lodge, being 55 and older … that could free up space so people who are currently living outside could move into those shelters.”
But other committee members were resolute in their support for BC Housing’s decision.
“There’s a reason why we built a new building and moved people out [to The Summit],” said Langford Coun. Denise Blackwood, who chairs the Capital Regional Hospital Board. “There were issues with washrooms, with the elevator and many other issues that weren’t covered in this brief report.”
Fellow Langford Coun. Lanny Seaton spoke of similar problems at Prince Edward Lodge, a Langford seniors’ residence at the end of its useful life. Not only was asbestos found in the building, some bathtubs have cracks that make them leak, and some residents are unable to get into their tub. “Would you put vulnerable seniors in a building that wasn’t fit for other seniors?” he asked.
Saanich Coun. Susan Brice pointed out that BC Housing staff “are not neophytes,” when it comes to dealing with covenants and other elements of housing appropriateness.
Murdoch emphasized that point, saying the organization looked at multiple options for temporary use of Oak Bay Lodge and the related costs of doing so.
“It’s not as simple as saying it’s been used by seniors, it can still be used by seniors,” he said. “We’re looking at providing a significant investment in housing and I really don’t want to see that damaged, when we have the ability to engage with the community [about its desired future use].”
Helps’ amendment to ask staff to revisit options for a temporary shelter while abiding by the covenant, failed by a 10-2 vote, with alternate CRD Director Mary Richardson from Salt Spring Island the only other supporter.