Capital and operating funding for a new supportive housing project on Salt Spring Island is secure, according to officials, but the construction timeline remains uncertain.
BC Housing held an online community meeting last Wednesday to share progress and information about its project to build housing at 161 Drake Road, a property held by the agency under a long-term lease. BC Housing development manager Kirsten Baillie said $8 to 9 million in capital funding — plus an unspecified ongoing operating subsidy — was in place, and the project could go forward.
“In terms of anticipated start, we would like to start construction in 2023,” said Baillie. “Once those timelines are all finalized, we will update our websites [and] give construction notices, so that people are aware that the work is happening.”
Baillie said there will be a competitive request for proposals (RFP) process to determine who will run day-to-day operations at the facility once opened; the agency projects completion in winter 2023, but admitted it was a “rough estimate.”
“We’re still working on technical drawings,” said Baillie, “but once construction starts, we will definitely make sure to keep people notified in terms of how we’re progressing and where things are at.”
BC Housing did recently overcome one significant hurdle in project planning, according to Baillie — conditional groundwater approval from the Ministry of Forests was received in February, following earlier water source approval from Island Health.
Baillie emphasized the importance of the project to the broader Salt Spring community, noting that the island currently has no permanent supportive housing.
“Salt Spring has a fairly high number of people experiencing homelessness,” said Baillie. “Our latest count identified 146.”
That figure comes from BC Housing’s 2020-21 Report on Homeless Counts in B.C., which marks 146 insecurely housed people on Salt Spring Island, up 27 per cent from the last count of 115 in 2018. That figure, which the report said was more than double the reported provincial average for that same period (11.5 per cent), is a point-in-time snapshot provided independently by Salt Spring Island Community Services (SSICS).
According to BC Housing, SSICS’s figure includes both sheltered and unsheltered homeless; Salt Spring’s listing with BC Housing does not include a data breakdown by gender, age, Indigenous identity, health condition, length of time homeless, or length of time in the community — a granularity every other community count included in the report provides. SSICS data did however note 75 per cent of those counted in 2020 were unsheltered — or 109 people. On its website, SSICS said it tallied 131 homeless in 2018, including unsheltered (63), emergency sheltered (29) and provisionally accommodated (39) individuals.
As currently envisioned, the 161 Drake Road project will provide 28 studio apartments, offered first to the 15 residents currently at BC Housing’s temporary facility at 154 Kings Lane, then to others through a “coordinated access and assessment” selection process. Criteria will include being over age 19 and at risk of or experiencing homelessness, as well as a requirement to be a “Salt Spring resident” — although how that will be defined is still undetermined.
“In terms of giving priority to Salt Spring residents, we can certainly — when we’re getting closer to the operations aspect and considering resident selection — unpack that definition a bit more,” said BC Housing region operations director Jennifer Fox.
BC Housing will host an in-person community “open house” Thursday, March 16, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Lions Hall.