Supportive housing project delayed 6-plus months due to negotiations, pre-construction hurdles

City hopes 20-unit facility will open by mid-2017

by Laura Rodgers, Abbotsford News

A supportive-housing project intended to provide much-needed shelter for men who are homeless or at risk of homelessness will open at least six months late in mid-2017, not in 2016 as was previously hoped.

The city’s spokesperson, Katherine Treloar, now estimates the building contract will be signed before the end of September, with construction starting in early 2016 and taking 15 months to complete. The project is located on Gladys Avenue, just north of George Ferguson Way.

When the project was first announced last December, the City of Abbotsford estimated construction could begin 10 days after the building contract was signed, and Abbotsford Community Services hoped residents could begin to move into the facility in 2016.

During the bidding process, an interested contractor questioned the timeline and called it “not realistic.”

The city now says it will take three to six months between the signing of the contract and ground-breaking. Negotiations with interested contractors have also caused a three-month delay in getting the building contract signed.

“The window [between signing and breaking ground] was extended due to a negotiation with a preferred [contractor] to ensure the design and pre-construction process could be finalized,” said Treloar, adding the timeline extension was legally allowed under the terms of the project proposal.

The project, funded by BC Housing for $2.4 million, will provide 20 units of housing and is seen as a key part of the city’s efforts to address homelessness issues.

As “low-barrier supportive housing,” it will allow residents who are not drug- and alcohol-free, and will provide support services on site. The project is currently being managed by the City of Abbotsford, and Abbotsford Community Services will operate the site.

The project was initially proposed for a different location, on Montvue Avenue, but rezoning for that area was defeated by an Abbotsford city council vote in response to community pressure against the development. Janna Dieleman, Abbotsford Community Services’ spokesperson, expressed disappointment about the project starting later than expected.

“It would be nice to have shovels in the ground in January, but realistically it might not be until March or April,” Dieleman said. “We wish it was moving forward quicker because, during all these delays, there are people still that need housing and we can’t help them.”

Dieleman said contract negotiations are a complicated matter because they need to be approved by all three parties involved in the project: Abbotsford Community Services, the City of Abbotsford, and BC Housing.

“Everybody has to agree in the process. That can take a bit of time,” she said.

Homelessness in Abbotsford has become a flashpoint issue in recent years. Arguments recently concluded in a B.C. Supreme Court case in which a group of homeless people argued the city’s bylaws against camping in public parks infringed on their Charter rights.

At trial, lawyers for the city repeatedly referenced the supportive-housing project as evidence of the city’s efforts to provide shelter to its homeless population.

Kevin Hollett, a spokesperson for Pivot Legal Society, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, said he was unhappy about the delay in this housing project.

“What the court heard in trial over the summer is that there’s an inadequate number of housing and shelter spaces for people in Abbotsford,” Hollett said. “What was supposed to be a good and promising start is not nearly enough. It might be another winter of people with no places to stay.”

An example of the issues that people living on the streets can encounter took place on Monday. Two people were taken to hospital after drug overdoses at the homeless camp on Gladys Avenue.

Emergency crews were called to the scene just before noon. A woman in her mid-20s was unconscious and a man in his mid-30s was still conscious but suffering medical issues.

Both were taken to hospital for treatment and released later that day.

Const. Ian MacDonald said it’s not yet known if the incident is related to the use of fentanyl, but a white powder found at the scene has been sent away for testing. Fentanyl has caused a high number of overdoses, several fatal, in B.C. this summer.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this article and in the Sept. 9 print edition, it was indicated that city spokesperson Katherine Treloar said a contractor had commented that the building timeline was “not realistic.” In fact, this comment was reflected in an addendum to the city’s public request for proposal, and did not come from Treloar.