Klee Hunter

An ambitious fix

Ward Street Place has provided a vital affordable housing solution to Nelson and changed lives in the process.

A $2 million revitalization of the Ward Street Place apartment block could get underway later this year, if the Nelson CARES society can secure affordable housing grants from BC Housing and Columbia Basin Trust.

The project would add 12 new low cost rental units to the 100 year old building at the corner of Ward and Victoria streets. It would also improve safety and energy efficiency in the 37 existing suites, while restoring the heritage facade of the building to improve the look of the streetscape.

“Seeing the Kerr block burn down, less than 30 metres from Ward Street Place, it was really a wake up call,” CARES society treasurer Ron Little said. “We need to protect this building and the people who rely on it for affordable rentals.”

The CARES Society has applied for grants that could cover more than half the cost of the project. There’s also $400,000 in equity in building that can be accessed by refinancing the mortgage.

The remaining $450,000 will be raised through a fundraising campaign set to begin in September.

“Even if we don’t qualify for the grants, we’ll still go ahead with the most urgent fire and electrical refits,” said Jenny Robinson, executive director of Nelson CARES.

Nelson CARES purchased Ward Street Place in 2002 to preserve the stock of affordable housing. It leases out five commercial spaces in the building and uses that revenue to offset the rent on residential units.

The Stepping Stones Emergency Shelter is run out of the basement and there’s offices for support staff to help residents connect with social services.

The affordable units are only rented to low income people.

Tom Lavis rented a suite in Ward Street Place from 2005 to 2011 and knows what a difference it can make for someone struggling to make ends meet.

“I was in a position where I had no options,” Lavis recalled. “I was on longterm disability and it wasn’t enough to cover my living expenses.”

He’d lost his apartment at the Kerr and had been couch-surfing for several weeks when he was offered the apartment at Ward Street Place.

“The relief was incredible from just knowing what I’d be paying every month,” Lavis said. “Being right downtown, it was close to the food bank and close to my doctor, and the staff were right there to help me with everything.”

Lavis said the support allowed him to get off disability, find a full-time job and eventuall move into a new apartment.

“I’ll be a taxpaying Nelson citizen now for the rest of my living days,” Lavis said proudly. “I owe it all to Ward Street Place.”

However, the building is showing signs of wear. It will need a new roof by 2030 and new electrical by 2040. To plan for these longterm needs, Little said a component of the funding for the revitalization project will go towards establishing a $230,000 legacy fund for the building.

“We run the building day-to-day and manage it fairly tightly, investing every dollar we make on the building back into the building,” Little said. “The organization has sacrificed many hours and many dollars to keep that building running, and we want to make sure we can keep the building running for decades to come.”

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