This lot on White Road in Duncan will be the site of a new supportive housing development. A similar facility will be built on Drinkwater Road in North Cowichan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

100 supportive housing units to be built in Duncan, N. Cowichan

‘We have the track record that this works’

Construction is expected to begin this fall on approximately 100 supportive housing units for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in the Cowichan Valley.

BC Housing has acquired two sites — 2983 Drinkwater Rd. in North Cowichan and 260 White Rd. in Duncan — to develop what the agency describes as “safe, secure housing with wraparound supports.”

Both facilities will consist of about 50 self-contained studio units. Residents will be provided with 24-hour on-site staff and support services, including meal programs, life and employment skills training, health and wellness services, and opportunities for volunteer work. Residents will be required to pay rent.

“I am pleased to see these projects move forward in our respective communities,” North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said. “I have been a long-time proponent of permanent housing solutions with much-needed wraparound services. These units will help address homelessness both in North Cowichan and in the Cowichan Valley while giving our most vulnerable populations access to vital services.”

Although BC Housing has the right to build where they want, regardless of zoning bylaws, both municipal councils were aware of the plans, and helped conduct research to determine the best locations for the facilities.

“We were the ones that actually identified the sites to them and said they might work,” Siebring explained. “They went out and bought them.”

The provine purchased the Drinkwater Road site for $976,185 and the White Road site for $663,730 with money from the Supportive Housing Fund.

As with North Cowichan council, the government of Duncan is also supportive of the plans.

“Duncan city council has identified working to address the homelessness and opioid crisis as top priorities for this term,” Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples said. “Service providers and health-care professionals have been asking for supportive housing with wraparound services, including treatment options and safe supply, for many years. These projects are yet another example of what becomes possible when we define a goal, commit to action and work together as local and provincial governments to meet the needs in our communities.”

The NDP provincial government and the Green Party caucus have identified affordable housing as a priority, and both area MLAs voiced their support for the new housing.

“The need for safe, secure housing has never been more important,” said Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP MLA Doug Routley. “We’re taking urgent action with our partners to provide these homes for people in the Cowichan Valley because when people have housing and supports, it’s good for everyone in the community.”

“Permanent housing for all citizens is essential for healthy individuals, healthy communities and healthy societies,” said Cowichan Valley Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau. “This investment in Cowichan comes as a result of the government responding to the united calls from local housing advocates, health-care providers and leaders in our community.”

Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour also expressed his support.

“I’m pleased to be working with our neighboring communities to address the homelessness or those at risk of becoming homeless,” he said. “This gives them an opportunity to have a safe and secure home, especially during this pandemic era. This is a much-needed resource in the Cowichan community.”

BC Housing says it will set up committees in both municipalities to oversee integration of the supportive housing within the community and address concerns raised as the projects move forward. The committees will be established prior to the housing opening.

That kind of consultation with the community and its role in the success of a similar development in Parksville are part of the reason Siebring supports the Drinkwater Road venture.

When BC Housing first proposed the site in Parksville, the community was “up in arms,” Siebring explained, but BC Housing offered to have weekly consultation meetings with area residents. Those weekly meetings became monthly, and are now quarterly, “because the support systems work.”

Governments in the Cowichan Valley have made it a priority to learn lessons from the failures and successes of other communities, Siebring noted, and developments like these have a positive history.

“We have the track record that this works,” Siebring said.

BC Housing will reach out to the community with more options for engagement over the next few weeks. To find out more about the projects, ask questions and provide input, community members can connect with BC Housing here at letstalkhousingbc.ca

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