Despite opposition from neighbours, a rezoning proposal to allow housing for the homeless on Gladys Avenue was given third reading by council on Monday.
The proposal to amend the official community plan (OCP) for the city-owned site to allow for low-barrier supportive housing – which allows residents to enter without being drug- and alcohol-free, and provides support services – was discussed for about two hours at the public hearing.
A majority of the speakers were in opposition to the plans for the site – located on the west side of Gladys Avenue, just north of George Ferguson Way.
Neighbours raised concerns about the potential for property crime, which many said is already common in the area; the proximity to two schools and a residential neighbourhood; impact on property values and more.
Peter de Jong, a neighbour who had started a petition against the project, said residents were there out of frustration. He said council has a mandate to keep people safe and that while he applauded efforts to help the homeless, he didn’t think the project would be successful.
“I would ask council to look for an alternative site.”
Staff, trustees and parents of students at Dogwood School spoke of the impact of the issue of homelessness on school grounds, such as finding remnants of waste left behind on school property.
Area resident Marcelo Dudka said people come into the neighbourhood from the homeless camp on Gladys Avenue near Essendene Avenue. He said there are incidents of property crime. “It’s gotten way worse ever since that tent city went up.”
He worries about his kids and said he can’t leave them outside to play by themselves.
He maintained the project should go in an industrial area where there are no children.
While there is no project currently slated for the site, the pre-emptive rezoning is being done with the hopes of securing provincial funding.
The city had previously considered a low-barrier supportive housing project – with roughly $17 million in attached funding from the province – at 2408 Montvue Ave. across from Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) headquarters.
That project was defeated on a tie council vote in February. Despite many community supporters of that project, some neighbouring residents opposed the site, and the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) objected to its location in the C7 zone, a special downtown city area that prohibits supportive recovery use.
Rod Santiago, executive director of ACS, said that council has a very difficult decision to make but it is important to have housing first, providing an opportunity for homeless people to be off the streets and supported, followed by an individualized recovery plan.
Following a public hearing, council has the option to defer its decision to a following meeting in order to consider the views of the public.
Coun. Dave Loewen said that while he didn’t want to appear to take the concerns of the public lightly, “the time is now to move ahead.” He added that he is confident it will be a successful project.
Coun. Henry Braun said he would vote in favour of the project, but was concerned it was rushed.
Mayor Bruce Banman said he doesn’t think there would be an ideal place for supportive housing, but said “this one is far more embraced by the community than the last one.”
Council voted unanimously to pass third reading.