Proponents of a new affordable housing development proposed for south Port Alberni have received support from city council.
New Commons Development and the Port Alberni chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) have partnered on a plan for a housing development on a piece of city-owned property on Second Avenue, between Argyle and Angus streets. The property is currently a grass lot.
The project was first pitched to Port Alberni city council back in June 2020. At the time, the proposed project consisted of 53 rental units above commercial space. CMHA and New Commons Development applied to BC Housing for project funding in January 2021, but this was not successful.
Dion Whyte of New Commons Development said the two partners spent several months looking at alternative business models, and they have identified another opportunity.
The new proposal is for a six-storey building. BC Housing will own and operate approximately 40 units of second-stage or third-stage supportive housing, along with outreach, office and service spaces on the ground floor. Meanwhile, CMHA will own and operate 28-30 units of independent rental housing at a mix of affordable and near-market rents. The City of Port Alberni will remain as the landowner in this proposal.
Whyte said supportive housing facilities are needed in Port Alberni.
“Really it was seen by both BC Housing and CMHA as an opportunity to address an even broader spectrum of community needs that have already been identified by the city,” he explained.
CMHA Port Alberni executive director Katrina Kiefer said that second- and third-stage supportive housing is transitional housing that offers “a spectrum of service delivery and needs and staffing levels” for people who aren’t ready to live independently yet.
CMHA currently operates four residential facilities in Port Alberni. Kiefer said the majority of CMHA’s clients are people who have grown up in Port Alberni, or who have lived in the area long term.
“We need to add more units in this town,” said Kiefer. “We’re finding that our clients are getting stuck in one place, when really they maybe could move on to independent housing. But there are no affordable rental units.”
Council voted on Monday to support the project in principle.
“The project is fantastic and it’s really exciting to see the progress that’s been made,” said Mayor Sharie Minions. She also recommended bringing an Indigenous partnership into the project as it moves forward. This was one of the recommendations that came out of a BC Housing review of the Port Alberni Shelter Society last year, she said.
The project partners still need to develop a Memorandum of Understanding with the city before planning can take place.
Whyte said they hope to start construction of the building by spring 2023.