Abbotsford debates subsidized housing

Business association remains opposed to recovery home in the downtown.

Despite listening to an evening of arguments for a supportive recovery home in downtown Abbotsford, nearby businesses still seem dead set against it.

Community housing groups joined the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) for a panel discussion on housing for the homeless at the University of the Fraser Valley Friday evening.

The discussion centered on Abbotsford Community Service’s proposal to rezone land in the downtown in order to open a 20-bed low-barrier housing complex. Social service groups argued that the proposed 2408 Montvue Ave. location makes the most sense because it would sit right beside ACS’s headquarters.

The ADBA countered that this location would violate an existing commitment by the city of Abbotsford to reserve the downtown strip for businesses. ADBA representatives made it clear that the value of the project is beside the point. What mattered was retaining the C7 zoning for the downtown, which disqualifies not only supportive recovery homes, but also other establishments such as tattoo parlours, churches, and pool halls.

“This is no ordinary rezoning application. By rezoning this property, the mayor and council must go back on their word to the 200 small businesses in the C7 zone,” said ADBA president Paul MacLeod. “What kind of a message are we sending to developers and investors if they can’t trust the word of our city council?”

When asked by an audience member what evidence the ADBA had that the home would negatively impact businesses, McLeod returned to the value of retaining the C7 zone as is. He added that the downtown is already saturated with services for marginalized people by having 12 such facilities, including the ACS.

There is a possible Plan B location for the housing complex, at Gladys Ave. and Pine St. However, because this would be farther removed from ACS headquarters, ACS would need to hire additional staff to manage it. That would add approximately $150,000 in operating costs for each of the 60 years for which ACS and BC Housing have committed to the project. BC Housing believes that the alternate location would also invite opposition because of its proximity to a school and to the downtown.

At Friday’s panel discussion, several people tried to allay fears about potential negative impacts on neighbouring businesses in front of the full house of about 200 attendees.

BC Housing’s regional director Naomi Brunemeyer said that the project is low-risk and would have a wealth of security features, including cameras and keyless entry.

ACS confirmed that the tenant selection committee would carefully screen each of the 20 potential residents.

“The men that will occupy this building will be men who are ready and willing to make a change,” said manager for donor and community relations Janna Dieleman.

Panellists affiliated with the Abbotsford Christian Leaders Network (ACLN) shared their experiences of visiting similar housing developments in New Westminster, Chilliwack, and other places.

“You would not know they were there. I drove by them. They are neat. They are clean. There’s nobody loitering outside. There’s no litter, no garbage, no grafitti. People do not cross the sidewalk to walk past them,” said Jim Burkinshaw from City of Refuge.

BC Housing has already allocated $2.4 million in capital funding for the project, plus $215,000 in annual operating costs. Abbotsford-South MLA and the event’s keynote speaker Darryl Plecas encouraged the community not to pass up a rare opportunity.

“Let’s get on it. I do not want to go back to my colleagues in Victoria and say, ‘Thank you very much, we could not use your $3 million.’ Because that ain’t coming back for a long time. Because there is a huge lineup of communities saying, ‘Give me the money.’…We have to make this happen,” said Plecas.