During the coronavirus pandemic, affordable housing being constructed in Salmon Arm by BC Housing and the Canadian Mental Health Association is moving forward, while the demand for accommodation keeps rising.
One of two four-storey affordable rental buildings at 540 Third St. SW is the closest to being finished, with an anticipated completion date before the end of 2020 or early 2021, said Dawn Dunlop, executive director with CMHA Shuswap-Revelstoke.
Named Larch Place, it sits in the back corner of the property that fronts on Third Street SW.
It and a second affordable rental building, Birch Place, will provide a total of 67 units with a mix of one- to four-bedroom designs for families, seniors and people with disabilities. Rents will be geared to income, which means people will pay approximately 30 per cent of their gross household income.
Birch Place sits close to the fence along Fifth Avenue SW, the building currently covered in white Tyvek house wrap. It is expected to be complete in April 2021, Dunlop said.
Once details are finalized, CMHA will hold a community engagement session to provide the public with information such as how to apply, she explained.
In the meantime, CMHA runs 150 units of housing, but wait lists are long and vacancies are few. However, Dunlop encourages people who are looking for housing to start the process by going onto the BC Housing Registry to apply.
A third building going up at the front of the property, Cedar Place, will feature 38 studio units with on-site supports for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Cedar Place is expected to be complete in the fall of 2021.
Dunlop said housing has been in a crisis situation for a long time, which continues during the pandemic and even seems to be getting worse.
“People from all walks of life are having trouble accessing housing. We are seeing people across the range,” Dunlop said.
She added that CMHA gets many calls, many drop-ins and many people registering for housing.
Recently, as winter gets closer, people who would not come inside before are now looking for accommodation.
Dunlop said CMHA works closely with Lieutenant Joel Torrens and his team at the Salvation Army, which owns the Lighthouse Emergency Shelter and is currently, because of COVID-19, operating temporary housing at the former McGuire Lake Congregate Living facility at 551 Trans-Canada Hwy.
Torrens said although usage at the McGuire Lake facility was low during the summer, the increase in need has been surprising.
“There are more people that need spaces than there are spaces to fit into,” he said. “It seems to be the reality throughout the region.”
He said the Salvation Army has been working with BC Housing to add capacity while adhering to Interior Health standards, possibly by having two people to a room.
The Lighthouse shelter, which is now closed, reached its highest number, 21, on one of the coldest nights last winter. Torrens said that number will soon be surpassed when more spaces at McGuire Lake become available.
Although McGuire Lake was opened as a temporary measure during the pandemic because it offers space where people can be isolated if necessary, it will continue for now because the pandemic remains.
Torrens notes how collaboration with and help from other organizations has been essential and much appreciated. For instance, Sorrento Centre has provided three meals a day at the facility for months, CMHA provided furniture, BC Housing funded renovations.
“It’s been a journey and we still have a ways to go. We’re looking at doing this better and better every day. Seeing how everyone has worked together to make this happen has been incredible,” Torrens said.
CMHA’s Dawn Dunlop also referred to the need for collaboration in providing a permanent housing supply.
She expressed appreciation for the city’s role in forming a housing task force to work on affordable housing. She also said provincial participation was key in Salmon Arm’s current projects and she encourages people to make affordable housing a priority topic during the provincial election.
“No one can do affordable housing on their own,” she emphasized.