Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Oak Bay locals hope to see current supportive housing used for Ukrainian refugees

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With the current lease expiring next month, the District of Oak Bay is putting out a call and seeking non-profits to operate two district-owned properties.

In September 2020, the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) signed a three-year agreement to operate houses at 1531 Hampshire Avenue (two bedrooms, one bath) and 1538 Monterey Avenue (six bedrooms, two baths) through its Welcome House project.

According to the VIRCS, the project was the first on Vancouver Island to provide interim affordable housing to refugees, helping them transition to long-term housing all over the island.

But last December, the district agreed to end the lease early. At the time, the VIRCS said that the COVID-19 pandemic had forced its team to re-evaluate programs and terminate the Welcome House project come May 7th, 2022.

Several residents have since addressed Oak Bay council, asking they make the Welcome Homes available as transitional housing for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war-torn country.

“Their biggest challenge is finding rental accommodation,” said Anne Piazza during an April 11th council meeting.

“Not only is Victoria a very competitive and high-cost rental market, but landlords may be reluctant to rent to Ukrainian refugees as they will not be able to provide credit history, former landlord reference letters, or personal references,” added Piazza.

“What I propose is to open up the Welcome Homes for Ukrainian refugees and allow the families to live in the homes for a period of possibly four or six months. At the end of the rental term, the families could move into new rental accommodation, and perhaps the District of Oak Bay could issue a letter of reference that the families could give to a prospective landlord.”

According to the district, once vacated, crews will undertake some basic repairs and maintenance to prepare the houses for new occupants.

The district is now seeking expression of interest in one or both properties from non-profit operators positioned to provide supportive housing for a lease term of up to 36 months, starting this September.

“We look forward to hearing from interested non-profit organizations and learning more about ways they might use these two properties to the benefit of the less fortunate,” said Mayor Kevin Murdoch.

“We hope to find a partnership (or partnerships) to ensure these buildings are providing real community value in the near term while their long-term future is decided.”

Non-profit operators interested are invited to complete the form found online here by May 20th. Oak Bay council then plans to review expressions of interest before determining the next steps.

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