Thoughts on the North Shore Affordable Housing

Over the last couple of days the City and provincial agencies have released details on plans to open up new affordable housing in Kamloops.  While the initial speculation was that the City had purchased land and a building on Tranquille Road for use as a homeless shelter (see article here) the actual plan is to install modular housing on this lot and as well as one in the downtown area (see article here).

I’ll admit, I had some reservations when it was first speculated last week that the existing building would become a homeless shelter.  I walk along Tranquille Road fairly often in the summer and admittedly I felt some trepidation that there would now be a homeless shelter there.  I also was also somewhat empathetic to some of the developers in the area who are taking risks to invest in development in the area that would revitalize the neighbourhood.  However, I also know that there are homeless people in our neighbourhood and we need to provide more and better options for them so while I did have some reservations, I generally supported the idea of the homeless shelter.

Unfortunately, some of the business owners along the corridor went apoplectic based on the initial rumours.  They didn’t want to see a shelter where homeless people might congregate as it might be bad for business.  Though I can see why they might be concerned, ultimately I found this view pretty petty.  I have written before about what I think the challenges are for the North Shore (article), and, in my opinion, one of the most significant challenges the North Shore faces is that there is so much dead space, from an urban design perspective, along the Tranquille corridor.  While they are certainly social issues that need to be addressed, they are exacerbated in some ways by the lifeless sidewalks at night.  There are many vacant  buildings and vacant lots that contribute to a less than inspiring streetscape.  This is compounded by a preponderance of second hand stores, pawn shops, loan sharks, and of course, the Duchess.  While there are many positive things happening along the corridor including an amazing restaurant scene, the Kamloops Innovation Centre, and a concentration of social service agencies that provide daytime vitality to the area, there are simply too many businesses and property owners along the corridor that have done little to contribute to the vitality of Tranquille Road.

Alas, now we know that the proposed use of the land on Tranquille is a little more nuanced than what was initially speculated.  The City will be working with the province and ASK Wellness to provide modular housing units for youth, seniors, disabled, and homeless or people at risk of homelessness.  While it sounds like there will be some space for a homeless shelter, the majority of the space will be used for housing and key social services.  We have an obvious need for this in Kamloops and it’s great that this partnership has come together.  This will provide an opportunity for people who have struggled to get and keep housing, many of whom live in our North Shore neighbourhood, to get access to housing and the services they need to have more stability in their lives.  This will help strengthen our community and help our neighbourhood.

While the primary focus of the development will be to provide affordable housing, I am also hopeful that the design of the building will contribute to the urban streetscape on Tranquille and bring value to the corridor as a whole.  The new housing is to be constructed in an area with many dilapidated buildings.  While I have said that many property owners and businesses have invested very little, it’s not true of all.  The development of the Manshadi Pharmacy building on Tranquille has helped improve the streetscape and has improved the aesthetic of Tranquille.  The new development of the Station of Tranquille looks like it will also be a significant positive contributor to the streetscape of the corridor.  There is investment happening in development along the corridor and the new affordable housing units should be designed in such a way as to continue this trend of higher quality development along Tranquille.  While I understand that the development will use modular buildings constructed in a factory that may be temporary in nature, there is still an opportunity to implement some of the design guidelines described in the North Shore Neighbourhood Plan to ensure that the development complements and adds value to the area’s streetscape.  Making the building function at a pedestrian scale will be an important consideration.

I am also happy to see that the City has purchased this land.  I am a big advocate of municipalities developing a diverse inventory of land holdings that they leverage to meet social, economic, and environmental goals for the community.   The Tranquille corridor suffers from too many absentee property owners.  Having the City own the land means that it can be used for affordable housing in the interim while also leaving open the possibility that the City could leverage the land in another way to meet other emerging social or economic goals in the future.  At the very least it probably means that the City will not be a negligent landowner unlike some other property owners on the corridor.  As residents of the North Shore, we can at least hold the City to account for what happens on their property – it’s much more difficult on a piece of private land where the owner is nowhere to be seen.

Homelessness and housing issues, along with the opioid overdose epidemic, are some of the biggest issues we face as a society.  Based on what I’ve seen, I believe the City and the agencies in Kamloops deserve a lot of credit for their ongoing efforts to find solutions to these issues.  As a resident of the North Shore, I recognize that some of my fellow neighbourhood citizens are not as fortunate as I am.  While it would be lovely to push the homelessness issue to Aberdeen, if we are truly interested in helping people achieve their optimal health and well being, we must be willing to face the issue head-on in the neighbourhood in which it exists and where the people have the best access to services.  So I welcome this development to the neighbourhood and hope for its success.  There are certainly people in our neighbourhood that need this step up and if we can give them an option that helps them be safer and healthier, then we must do it and we must resist the urge to be NIMBY’s about it.  This winter and its harsh conditions has exposed some of our shortcomings, as a society, in ensuring housing for all.

 

 

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