Options Community Services is planning to build a nearly 95,000-square-foot rental building in Newton that would have 100 units, the lion’s share of which would be well below market rental rates.
“This is the largest project Options has taken on itself, in terms of a development like this,” Options CEO Janice Boyle told the Now-Leader. “This is a really big deal for us, and we think we’re going to get enough organizational learning out of this to be able to expand what we’re able to do.”
It’s been in the works since 2015, she said, when Options purchased the property at King George Boulevard and 81st Avenue.
“We saw an opportunity at the time, not necessarily with a clear vision of what we wanted to do but we knew we needed some room to grow some of our services and we knew that the city needed housing,” Boyle told the Now-Leader.
“So we’ve been working on the concept since then, and one of our partners, BC Housing, came to the table pretty early and we were trying to work out how to make the financial model work and how we could run this at a break-even basis while keeping rents really low. It’s tough to work that out.”
But the stars aligned.
“It was really exciting for us when CMHC announced their new funding streams for affordable housing. So we applied to them in October of last year, and they have also come on board with the project and what has been quite exciting for that is CMHC, having services kind of co-habitate with housing is a real positive and their investment of a grant in addition to their financing allowed us to have some truly low, low rents.”
Rents start as low as $375 a month for a one-bedroom, and range from there, with some market rental units in the mix.
The plan includes 30 market rentals, and the other 70 would be “non-market.” Of those, 30 would have “shelter” rates, 13 units would have rents “under 50 per cent of the median market rent,” six units would have rents below 60 pr cent of the median rent, two units would be 70 per cent below median rent and 19 would be BC Housing units.
The unit mix consists of four three-bedroom units, 46 studio units, 42 one-bedroom units and eight two-bedroom units, with the larger units intended to accommodate families and women and children.
The development is to be partially funded by both Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and BC Housing, with CMHC providing grant funds and long-term mortgage financing and BC Housing providing a “large capital grant.”
The proposal, at 8135, 8123 and 8109 King George Boulevard, requires city council’s blessing to rezone the properties from RA and RF to CD, and an Official Community Plan amendment is required to allow for a high floor area ratio. It’s expected the project would be ready for occupancy by the end of 2022.
A public hearing for the proposal is set for Monday, July 8 at Surrey City Hall.
“Options has extensive experience in providing housing and support services across much of the housing continuum and all units are intended to be targeted to vulnerable populations,” city staff note in the application to be considered by city council.
“Residents may also engage in one or more of the community services that will be operating within the building,” the application states, noting services will include mental health outreach; supports for those with developmental disability; housing support; domestic violence intervention; early years programs; and more.
The community services would be located at ground level, with office space on the second floor and the majority of residential units on floors three through six.
City staff note in a report to council that the proposal supports the existing B-line transit service on King George Boulevard for future rapid transit. Staff also note that the plan supports Surrey’s Affordable Housing Strategy for purpose-built rental housing being constructed close to Frequent Transit Networks.
Boyle said Options is thrilled with the proposal, and hopes it can be replicated throughout the city to address the housing crisis in Surrey, and beyond.
“When we look at last year’s stats, only able to take in seven per cent of referrals that we get in a year for women and children fleeing domestic violence,” said Boyle. “And we’re only able to house about 20 per cent of our shelter clients. We’re also turning away 160 a month because we’re full. The problem isn’t necessarily that we need more shelter and transitional beds, although that would help, but because there’s such a shortage of safe and affordable housing, people that are ready to be independent again, they can’t find anywhere else to go. We have this huge bottleneck.
“These 100 units are going to fill up fast, I imagine. But we have to start somewhere.”
Boyle is also hoping Surrey council will waive the Development Cost Charges for the project, which she said add up to $1.5 million.
“We’ve been attempting so far unsuccessfully to do a delegation in front of city council, to ask them to consider adopting a policy similar to one Langley just did, where they waive DCCs for affordable housing projects. We’re one of the few muncipalities who don’t have it,” she noted.
Although, she noted, BC Housing projects on city-owned properties are exempt.
“It seems to be a no-brainer that you’d treat non-profit and charities differently than private developers, we’re not making any money off this,” Boyle said.