A proposed affordable housing development got a thumbs up from the majority of people attending a public hearing about the project.
The Kaslo Housing Society’s Penny Lane project went through a public hearing on Nov. 29 to let the public weigh in on bylaw changes needed to let the project move ahead.
And for the most part, people were on board.
“There is a housing crisis in this community…,” said Andy Shadrack. “I hope this is the first partnership, and we need more, because we need to make sure there is a mix of housing available in this community for the mix of incomes we have. There are way too many people going to the food bank because they can’t afford rent and food or to pay their power bills.”
“I am just so grateful we are getting something that is stable, secure, reliable and that we can afford,” added Nancy Gibson, who has volunteered for local community groups for decades. “So I just want to thank you. Every board I have been on over the years, I have heard about the need for this and it’s never happened. So this is wonderful and I thank you so much.”
The housing society, along with New Commons Development, an organization that helps affordable housing projects navigate the funding and approval processes, started planning the 10-unit, $3-million project about two years ago, and earlier this year received initial approval from BC Housing. Seven of the 10 units are designed to have affordable rents, with the three market-rate units subsidizing operations of the rest of the building.
However, the project needs tweaks to the Village’s Official Community Plan and zoning bylaws to build on the proposed site, adjacent to the Kemball building. That’s because it goes against the current zoning rules for density, parking spaces, and setbacks from the property line.
In introducing the project, Kaslo Village chief administrative officer Ian Dunlop said council was behind the project because it fits in with larger community needs.
He noted a regional housing survey done for the RDCK in 2020 recognized a “severe shortage” of rental housing in Kaslo.
Dunlop said the location was excellent for such a project, as amenities were within walking distance, and the design complemented the historic nature of the Kemball building next door.
But not everyone was on board. One woman said she was concerned about the maintenance of the rental buildings, while one nearby resident said he didn’t want social assistance housing in the community.
“If this is [social housing], I am not in super-favour of it,” said Dan Quigley. “While there is a need for affordable housing for working people, etc., that’s a need. But we don’t need to bring in social housing.
“Other communities that have done this, they regret it,” he continued. “I know people in law enforcement throughout the province and I told them about it, and they said ‘it sounds like social housing, you’re going to want to move out of Kaslo soon, because it’s going to wreck the town.’”
Housing Society and New Commons officials tried to dispel the notions, saying the building would not be a shelter for the homeless. They said the project is not considered social assistance housing by granting agencies, and would be properly maintained through rent revenue and provincial housing support. The society would not be inviting people from outside the community to move to Kaslo to live in the building, the society’s president added.
“To me, the bottom line for the Kaslo Housing Society is that the people who are living in this building are us,” said Erika Bird. “They are our neighbours already. They won’t be brought in from elsewhere. They are the people who work at the grocery store, the hotel, behind in the kitchens. They are having a hard time, they have a rental today but may find it sold out from under them next year. This is our focus, to look after people in our own community because there’s not a lot of options out there.”
Other residents supported the project and the people living there.
“I wasn’t going to speak because I didn’t think anyone could possibly oppose this project,” said Kevin Flaherty. “They’ll be there, working downtown, supporting our businesses, helping our security. People who live downtown add to the safety of the citizens walking in those communities.
“I am so proud of council for helping it get this far, helping it pass, filling in that hole. This would be a real shame if this was not passed and not allowed to go ahead.”
With the hearing concluded, the chance for the public to weigh in on the project was completed. Council gave the bylaw changes second and third readings at its Dec. 7 meeting, and will vote on final adoption at an upcoming meeting.
The next steps see council enter into an agreement to sell the property to the Housing Society – with riders to ensure the project remains of benefit to the public as a whole – and the society will begin the work of securing financing from the CMHC and moving forward with actual construction.