Saturday, May 16, 2020

Province of British Columbia purchases Raffles Hotel for Social Housing use

The Province of British Columbia is the newest owner for the
building once known as Raffles, with the North Coast Transition
Society set to make use of it for supportive housing for the homeless

The Province of British Columbia has taken a significant step towards housing for the most vulnerable today, announcing the purchase through BC Housing of the Raffles Hotel at Five Corners for use as supportive housing for those experiencing, or at risk of homelessness in Prince Rupert.

The announcement from North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice,  which comes curiously in the middle of a long weekend, when few may be around to actually hear it, was made this morning.

Among one of the key elements of the information release was the Province making note of its partnership with The North Coast Transition Society and City of Prince Rupert, as it adds to the housing stock for the community.

“Homelessness affects not only those experiencing it, but the community as a whole. We’re excited to work with our partners to convert this building into new supportive homes for people in Prince Rupert. These homes with supports will help people experiencing homelessness regroup and recover, and the benefits will extend into the community.” -- North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice

The Province will convert the former hotel into a permanent supportive housing building with up to 48 units, each with private washrooms, showers and mini kitchens.

The building will also include a commercial kitchen, dining and lounge areas, storage and amenity space, and laundry and a medical examination room. It will also have 24/7 on hist staff and support services on site, as well as to offer a range of services towards life and employment skills training, health and wellness programs.

Once complete, the building will also have the capacity for a 35-space temporary shelter or an Extreme Weather Response (EWR) shelter.

Christine White, Executive director for North Coast Transition Society made note of the community effort on homelessness in Prince Rupert and the work of BC Housing and the MLA towards the Raffles acquisition.

“We are very excited about this opportunity and much needed project that serve the needs of the most marginalized members of our community. The people of Prince Rupert have been so generous and supportive of those living on the streets. We know that this will benefit the community as having a home and a safe place is a start for life-changing opportunities. BC Housing and MLA Jennifer Rice have been a huge support in in this project, in addition to all our other community partners. We look forward to moving on with the project.”

Construction will begin in fall 2020. The shelter portion of the building is expected to open in early 2021, while the supportive homes will be ready later in the year, by fall 2021.

The province is providing 11.8 million dollars to the project through it's Supportive Housing Fund, as well there will be an annual operating subsidy of $1.2 million for the facility.

Once renovations are complete, the residents of the Fisherman's Hall shelter will transition to the new supportive building at Five Corners.

As part of today's roll out of news, Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain made note of the supports the new facility will offer.

“These new units of supportive housing will offer 24/7 support to our community's most vulnerable, including achieving economies of scale by integrating a temporary shelter as well. When the first supportive units opened at Crow’s Nest, they were immediately full, proving that the need exceeded the supply of available units. We are happy to be working with the Province to make this happen in Prince Rupert.”

With the Raffles purchase, things appear to have come full circle for the homeless in the city, with rooms at the hotel having perviously been used as an Emergency Shelter that had been operated on a contract basis by the Salvation Army.

The building had been put up for sale in 2017,  it was purchased by Five Eight investments who at the time had outlined their plans to renovate the structure to turn the facility into long term residences. Previous to its identity as Raffles, the hotel was long known in the community as The Drifter.

The purchase of the hotel in Prince Rupert is one of a number similar purchases that the Province has made in recent weeks as they continue a roll out of measures to take on the challenges of homelessness across British Columbia.

Yesterday, the BC Government released details related to an 18.5 million dollar purchase of a Victoria motel to provide housing for those relocating from urban homeless camps.

Today's announcement for Prince Rupert is a significant achievement for North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice who has long been an advocate for more affordable and supportive housing for the community.

And while it has taken a little bit longer than most, including the MLA herself perhaps,  probably would have liked; there has been some solid progress towards the issue of housing in the last year.

The first step towards securing some of that progress came with the construction of the Crow's Nest Lodge on Park Avenue in 2019.

Ms. Rice was also instrumental in securing the new accommodation for the homeless at the Fisherman's Hall building which can house 35 residents if need be, that facility went into use last month when the need to find a new accommodation was required.

The acquisition of the Raffles property will make for another step to address the still existing challenges for housing for the most vulnerable in the community.

The MLA added to the narrative of the day with further notes through her Facebook page this morning.

The full statement from the province of British Columbia can be reviewed here.

For more notes related to Housing in Prince Rupert see our archive page here.

Further items of interest from the Legislature can be found here.

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