About 250 people visited Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) on Thursday evening for a public open house on the organization's proposal to build housing for homeless men in Abbotsford's downtown.
The proposed facility would provide housing for 20 men, for up to two years. The facility is low-barrier, meaning the men would not have to be drug- and alcohol-free when they enter, though they would have to enter into an agreement to address the issues that have contributed to their homelessness.
The proposed site is next to ACS, at 2408 Montvue Ave., and would require rezoning, as it falls within the city's C7 zone, which has a specific set of bylaws which prohibit certain residential uses in the downtown core and excludes "emergency shelter use and supportive recovery use."
Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) has opposed the rezoning, stating that the zone was designed to "protect" downtown businesses. They launched a petition against the project, saying that C7 zoning allowed the ADBA to turn "what was once a derelict area of the city into what it is now."
The issue will eventually go before mayor and council.
Mayor Bruce Banman attended, and said at this point he hopes to "get ACS, the ADBA and neighbours in the same room," to discuss their concerns.
He said the polarization among stakeholders in the downtown is "not helping anyone, and the ones stuck in the middle are the homeless."
Allan Asaph, executive director of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, agreed it is important to consider all sides of the issue as the plans develop. Asaph said there are two separate issues – one is dealing with homelessness in Abbotsford, and the other is the question of rezoning within the C7 area. He said no one disputes that supportive housing is needed, but that the C7 zoning was created to improve the downtown core, and the city needs to consider "whether it is fair to businesses and citizens to change the rules."
Janna Dieleman, community relations officer for ACS, said the next step is continuing to communicate with downtown stakeholders and the public. In the fall, ACS will hold a presentation to update the public on their progress. ACS has also added a feature on their website – supportivehousing.abbotsfordcommunityservices.com – where the public can submit questions and have them answered.
Tina Stewart, executive director of the ABDA, said their organization is continuing to talk with ACS about concerns with the proposal and is "constantly working with them for a solution."
She said the ADBA continues to support building supportive housing in Abbotsford, but are against the idea of building it in the C7 zone. Stewart said the ABDA hopes to plan a meeting with the public to express their concerns for the project.