Few complaints about supportive housing project in first year

No major uptick in crime or bylaw concerns since building opened

As Abbotsford and BC Housing discuss the possibility of modular housing for homeless men and women, statistics obtained by The News suggest the opening of a supportive housing facility in Abbotsford last year didn’t lead to a surge of problems in the surrounding area.

Housing for the homeless has faced opposition from neighbours worried about crime both in Abbotsford in the past and, more recently, in Vancouver.

But the first year of operation of Abbotsford’s Hearthstone Place suggests such projects don’t have to upend established neighbourhoods.

Hearthstone opened its doors last March and gradually admitted 30 new residents over the spring and summer. When first proposed, residents of the neighbourhood closest to the Gladys Avenue site worried the new facility would lead to increased levels of property crime. Similar concerns had scuttled a previous proposal on Montvue Avenue earlier in the year.

Since opening, though, the new building – which is run by Abbotsford Community Services – hasn’t led to a spike in bylaw or criminal complaints from residents of the residential neighbourhood closest to the Gladys site.

Residents made only two bylaw complaints related to homelessness issues or people in the area in 2017, the same as in 2016, according to figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

Meanwhile, statistics from the Abbotsford Police show the neighbourhood saw only around a half dozen criminal complaints between May and October of last year. That figure is the fewest such complaints for that time period over the last five years.

Calvin de Jong, who lives in the area and whose father had started a petition against the project, said residents had been worried that the building would magnify property crime problems they attributed to the homeless camps closer to the Salvation Army.

That “ended up not being the case,” said de Jong. Instead, residents of the new building have “kept to themselves” and don’t seem to be from the camps. De Jong has also been sitting on a committee convened by Abbotsford Community Services, although meetings have slowed over the past year, he said.

Megan Capp, Hearthstone’s manager, said she hasn’t received any formal complaints since opening. She said there has been a good relationship with the neighbourhood and that, in addition to the committee, residents are able to contact her at any time about concerns.

“The first year has gone quite well.”

Capp said residents have also been told that any conduct that creates problems in the surrounding community results in a review of their tenancy.

“There are certain expectations that we have for our residents to follow not only in our building, but as they engage in the broader community,” she said.

Hearthstone has had residents who have been evicted or left voluntarily, but others have thrived.

She said past experiences in Vancouver show that success in negotiating a project’s inclusion in the community often comes down to the operator’s willingness to work to create a positive relationship. At Hearthstone, she said one resident gardener receives an honorarium to maintain landscaping around the building, and the facility is also set to participate in the city’s adopt-a-block program.

“We really encourage (residents) to recognize that, yes, this is a building, but we’re also part of a broader community and we’re the ones who are actually new here.”

Capp said ACS also continues to seek people wanting to participate in the good neighbour committee. To get involved, email supportivehousing@abbotsfordcommunityservices.com.

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