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Pemberton still struggling to find money for seniors housing



Picture yourself as a member of a town council.

You live in a small community and you struggle every year trying to gather enough tax revenue to provide services and make ends meet. People are having trouble finding housing and the town elders worry they won't be able to age in place.

Then a government ministry marches into town and announces plans to build 18 units of seniors rental housing that they'll pay for. They're placing them there as part of a goal to develop 1,300 affordable rental housing units across the province.

It sounds great... until the councillor realizes that the community will have to put up about 10 per cent of the $3.5 million cost of constructing the housing project.

That's precisely the conundrum that the Village of Pemberton finds itself in: trying to ensure that its seniors population can age in place while struggling to pay for a development they never asked for.

Pemberton Councillor Ted Craddock has followed the issue closely. He told Pique in an interview last week that Pemberton is being asked to put up $300,000 to pay for the cost of loading a property with structural fill and pre-load in order to protect the development against flooding.

The Village is now considering waiving Development Cost Charges for the project, which could add even more to that bill.

"The government announces all these plans, we get the people of our community all excited about seniors housing so people can age in place," Craddock said. "But then you say, we still want to go ahead, but you may have to come up with 10 per cent of the cost."

Pemberton's situation is an anomaly among B.C. communities receiving seniors housing, Craddock added. He brought up the issue in a session with Finance Minister Colin Hansen at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities Convention two weeks ago, telling the minister that there should be a contingency fund for such projects when there's not enough money to complete them.

Hansen agreed, but ultimately said Craddock should deal with Rich Coleman, B.C.'s Minister of Housing. Craddock was then approached by representatives of various communities who told him none of them were facing the same problems.

"When I proposed this question and brought this up, there was about 150 people in the room, mayors and councillors from across the province," he said. "I was a little surprised at how many people came up to me and were just surprised that we were having to put any money forward."

There are ways that the Village of Pemberton could help pay for the housing. The B.C. Building Corporation has said it might be willing to contribute $80,000 to make the development happen. That leaves Pemberton and the local Lions Club needing to raise $220,000 - still a big chunk of money for a small community Craddock said.

Coming up with the cash could require raising taxes. Craddock, head of Pemberton's finance committee, said if the municipality raised its mill rate by one per cent, it could gain $20,000. If it raised it 10 per cent, it could have the money it needs for the project.

Despite the costs, Craddock still says there's a need for seniors housing and that Pemberton officials are intent on making the project happen.

"I think the Lions Club did a survey and they feel that there's easily, I think they said about 16 to 17 people that would come back to the community that moved out. That would take up the units.

"We also had a meeting with the Mount Currie Band the other evening. Although they've got some funding to put seniors housing up there, there was some consideration there might be two, three or four units they'll own in town for Mount Currie residents also."

For its part, B.C. Housing said in an e-mail that the Village of Pemberton and the Lions Club wished to proceed with the project and "agreed to cover the costs in meeting the structural needs." The e-mail went on to say that when the budget requirements of the initiative were looked into, both local parties asked that the project proceed and committed to raising funds within the community.

In the City of Parksville, another community where the Ministry of Housing has committed to putting up a rental project, the Lions Club provided land valued at $635,000. The City of Parksville waived $274,773 in Development Cost Charges (DCC's) and the Regional District of Nanaimo waived $109,895 in DCC's.