Proponents of a 91-unit inclusive housing project in South Surrey say they are embarking on a campaign to better explain what the development is about and for whom it is intended, following comments at a public hearing last week that suggested a lack of understanding on the part of residents and city officials alike.
“It’s kind of similar to the Fraser Health vaccine issue,” UNITI chief executive officer Doug Tennant said Thursday (April 29). “Our model is just not understood. It appears that all social housing is kind of thought of as homelessness housing.”
The April 26 hearing was set to hear feedback on an amendment bylaw that would facilitate realignment of a portion of the Semiahmoo Heritage Trail which currently runs through the centre of the site eyed for Harmony Apartments, located in the 15100-block of 20 Avenue.
However, comments also focused on other aspects of the project, from its height and the related tree loss, to impacts on traffic and parking – things Tennant said have already been dealt with. (According to the city’s summary of ‘action items’ arising out of the hearing, those development-variance permit issues were deemed out of order.)
Ultimately, council voted to have staff work with the developer to try and mitigate “some of the issues” raised around the trail realignment, which included concerns with altering a piece of local history.
Tennant said he didn’t know what, if any, further delay the decision may have on the project, which, it was hoped would break ground in September.
However, comments preceding it suggested “there’s still a lot of misunderstanding as to the type of housing we’re creating.”
Couns. Brenda Locke, Allison Patton and Laurie Guerra weighed in, as did Mayor Doug McCallum.
All four agreed that there is a need for more supportive housing in Surrey, but said more work was needed on the Harmony proposal as a whole to alleviate the broad range of concerns.
Guerra the decision “wouldn’t be so challenging” if there was only one aspect raising concerns.
“If it was just the reduced parking or just the traffic concern or just the increased density or just the tree loss or just the height of the building,” she said. “But with all of that and altering a heritage trail, I just think it might be too much to ask of the residents to deal with that.”
Patton said she is a “huge fan” of the proposed housing “in the sense of allowing space for certain individuals like our advocates at the Semiahmoo Society – self advocates – for them to have housing and others in a community that’s so supportive.”
“But I do want to have us take seriously the whole project, the future parts of the project that aren’t being addressed tonight,” she said.
McCallum told council he still has “a lot” of questions” about the Harmony project, including whether it is suited to the area.
“We have affordable housing that we’re building, but we still need more,” he said. “But I think this project, at least at this stage, is in the wrong location for that type of housing.
“I’ve worked very, very hard over the years to put affordable housing and homeless shelters into communities that are the right communities to put it in. Basically, where the homeless live is where you put the homeless shelters in.
“It’s a very difficult decision, because we do need affordable housing, but we do have to make sure that we build it in communities that it will fit in and that it will work.”
Tennant said Harmony “is meant to be and will be reflective of the community… and a real asset for the city.”
It will be UNITI’s second purpose-built project. The first, Chorus, opened with 71 units at 2350 153 St. in 2016. That four-storey building “doesn’t look out of place,” Tennant noted.
The upcoming advocacy campaign will aim to “put a face to the tenants that want to move into Harmony,” he said, noting there are around 200 so far.
“The seniors, the health-care workers, the families, people with disabilities – that wide spectrum of the community who really will benefit from secure, quality, affordable housing for the rest of their lives.
“Get them to say what it means to them as well, to have housing that’s inclusive and reflective of the neighbourhood.
“This sort of bump in our progress will be overcome, and it will be overcome by just clarifying what it’s about. And once that’s demonstrated, I don’t see how anyone could be opposed.”
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter