Anew supportive housing project on Uplands Drive is underway and received a sunny kickoff from officials on site Wednesday.
By fall 2014, 6025 Uplands Dr. will be home to a 33-unit housing facility for people 45 and up who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
The provincially-funded, $7.3-million building will be staffed by the non-profit group Pacifica Housing Advisory Association, which will operate the facility through a contract with B.C. Housing. The province is providing operating funding of just under $996,000 a year.
In turn, the city provided the land for the project and waived development cost charges, a contribution worth approximately $536,000.
While there were plenty of smiles as officials sank shovels into the ground and posed for photographs, the housing project was a contentious civic election issue in 2011.
Neighbours, including a seniors residential complex next door, spoke out against the development, which they feared could bring substance abuse and other problems into the neighbourhood.
Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell, Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan, Pacifica president Dr. Deborah George and Pacifica executive director Karyn French all delivered remarks at the event.
Stilwell called the project "just one piece of the puzzle to end homelessness," and said the facility will offer the "building blocks" to help homeless or at-risk people live independently and safely.
"This event comes at a perfect time for our community," she said.
Ruttan credited several other officials for their support of supportive housing in the city. In particular Ruttan thanked city councillors Fred Pattje and Diana Johnstone, as well as former mayor Gary Korpan, former MLA Ron Cantelon and former councillor Merv Unger.
"There are no more important people to help than those who can't help themselves," Ruttan said. "It's incumbent on us to get behind this."
Pattje and Johnstone both supported the project on principle, despite opposition from some residents, even though they say it cost them votes.
"To me, this is very important, and it's also very gratifying to see how the neighbourhood has come around (to it)," Pattje said.
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