As a supportive housing project on Salt Spring Island remains stalled, the provincial agency in charge has increasingly come under fire from local officials — and recently faced public rebuke from a Member of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly.
BC Housing first announced it would be building 28 units of supportive housing at 161 Drake Rd. back in January of 2022, as the agency — and then-Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby — touted the fast tracking of the project, to support and house people experiencing or at risk of homelessness on Salt Spring Island.
The province used its authority under the Interpretation Act — commonly known as “statutory immunity” — to bypass the local zoning process, predicted an opening date for the facility in late summer, and announced construction would begin “within weeks.”
Now, more than 90 weeks later — and in the wake of the removal of a group of housing-insecure campers from the parcel — construction has yet to begin. Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen lamented the state of affairs last week, telling the Legislative Assembly that delivery of the island’s most pressing needs have apparently stumped B.C.’s government.
“As the Premier, Housing Minister, Transportation Minister, Health Minister, Mental Health and Addictions Minister, Education Minister, Public Safety Minister and Finance Minister have all made very clear to us, there’s not an infinite supply of cash for Salt Spring,” said Olsen Tuesday, Nov. 7. “There’s not even a modest amount of money, or even a desire to create land use and community planning that could facilitate it.”
Instead, continued Olsen, the province sent BC Housing — “fluttering around the island, claiming that they are going to purpose-deliver 24 or so modular units of supported housing, and somehow that will create housing stability for the thousands of people who are currently housing insecure.”
Olsen told colleagues that BC Housing’s Drake Road project had “ground to a halt,” a characterization difficult to dispute. A draft design and site plan for the project was shared in December of last year, showing two storeys of studio units set at an angle off the road — following the slope of the land, according to planners — along with an outdoor amenity space and a modest amount of landscaping.
And while BC Housing representatives at that time suggested the plan to use modular construction would speed completion, Olsen told colleagues his understanding was that the agency had purchased units that were “not suitable” and that needed renovation. Responding to a Driftwood request for details, a written statement from BC Housing reaffirmed its commitment to completing the project, once again laying blame for construction delays upon both “environmental complexities” at the site and unspecified challenges with the former contractor.
“To ensure that the project moves ahead despite the challenges with the previous contractor, BC Housing is now exploring having new modular units fabricated for the project,” read the statement. “BC Housing is in the process of identifying a new contractor so we can move forward with construction as quickly as possible.”
BC Housing added a note of appreciation “for the community’s patience.”
Capital Regional District (CRD) general manager of Planning and Protective Services Kevin Lorette told the CRD’s Electoral Areas Committee Wednesday, Nov. 8 that he understood BC Housing was starting site preparation, although the timeline for the moment continued to be unclear.
“There is some active construction work that they’re planning,” said Lorette. “And [work that] CRD staff is planning to do with well drilling on that site, that would be coming up shortly.”
Over the past several months, CRD staff and a consulting hydrogeologist have been separately prepping for a groundwater exploration meant to inform the CRD board for future development opportunities on the site — constructing a temporary drilling pad and access trail to the property. And while public details regarding how BC Housing will ultimately provide as many as 28 units of permanent supportive housing there have been few and far between, CRD officials have said that agency has committed to quarterly progress updates as the CRD investigates whether to launch its own housing project on another part of the 5.5-acre parcel.
“We’ve had active discussions [with BC Housing] on how the renovations of the modular units are going,” said Lorette. “They’ve hit some roadblocks in that, and they’re looking to find an alternate company that can come in and provide better service, in terms of renovating those. In terms of any timelines of when they’ll be mobilizing, we don’t have that specific detail.”
Lorette said he hoped more information would come from a scheduled conference call with BC Housing set for Nov. 20.