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Victoria refugee association ends Welcome House program in Oak Bay

Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society cuts funding, says homes served their purpose
David Lau, former executive director of Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, inside the Monterey Avenue welcome house in 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)

An affordable housing project for refugees comes to an end in Oak Bay next spring.

The Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) and the district agreed to terminate the lease agreement for the Oak Bay Welcome Houses at 1531 Hampshire Rd. and 1538 Monterey Ave., effective May 7, 2022.

They signed a three-year agreement for the municipally-owned houses in September 2020.

The project was the first to provide interim affordable housing for refugees on Vancouver Island. VIRCS credits the initiative for supporting 10 refugees to transition to long-term housing all over the Island.

Identified as a project that has accomplished its purpose, the Welcome House program lost its funding as the COVID-19 pandemic forced VIRCS to re-evaluate programs. It plans to focus on other high priority and high-risk needs, especially those exacerbated by the pandemic.

RELATED: Victoria immigrant centre’s refugee housing lands in Oak Bay

“While the Welcome House initiative has been successful, the costs borne by VIRCS have made the project nonviable due to the prior administration having an expectation of funding that was never realized,” executive director Karen Hira, said in a statement. “Since the start of the pandemic, we have had to make tough decisions about the future of our organization, and upon review, have identified far greater foundational and risk-reduction needs that must be prioritized to ensure the sustainability of our organization.”

Over its tenure, the Welcome Houses supported one family and five individuals.

The district appreciates the project and would welcome future partnerships, said Mayor Kevin Murdoch. The Welcome Houses were years in the making, with myriad groups getting the buildings back into livable conditions.

RELATED: Oak Bay home ready to house refugees, immigrants

The houses were refurbished with than 500 volunteer hours by Odd Fellows, community members, skilled professionals and VIRCS board members, alongside $100,000 worth of infrastructure upgrades donated by Arise Construction.

The community raised more than $40,000 to support essential needs, and more than 50 volunteer hours by Oak Bay Rotary Club supported residents to learn about, and connect to, their community.

The homes were also the site of 50 settlement and integration workshops, and residents were also supported by several work-related programs.

The District of Oak Bay bought the Hampshire property in 1990. It was considered as a parking lot in 2007 and again in 2012. The district bought 1538 Monterey Ave. – a double lot – in 2016 for $1.7 million.

“Council is aware of community interest in the property, which will be explored further when the district undertakes a Village Area Planning process in 2023 to examine land uses on the properties to be vacated by VIRCS, and the surrounding Oak Bay Avenue area,” Murdoch said.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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