A potential 20-unit affordable housing complex with an attached community space that could eventually serve as a local social services hub took a big step towards realization last week.
Tofino’s municipal council signed a Memorandum of Understanding that effectively commits them to transferring district-owned land on the southern edge of town to the Tofino Bible Fellowship provided the Fellowship can find the funds needed to carry the housing project into the end-zone. The Fellowship is chasing after funding available through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation as well as the provincial government by way of grants or loans.
The land, officially known as District Lot 114, has long been earmarked for affordable housing and its development was initially under the perview of the Tofino Housing Corporation. That plan went into limbo when the THC dissolved in 2014.
The housing corporation has since been re-struck and, during Oct. 24’s council meeting, Tofino Housing Corporation executive director Ian Scott said the THC was excited to work with the Fellowship on the project and added that, as a registered charity, the Fellowship has access to funding and support sources that the THC doesn’t.
“They are better positioned to be able to serve populations in this community who aren’t what I would call the working poor, where the tourist economy has sort of put them out of reach of the real estate industry, but have other reasons why they’re struggling to find housing,” he said. “The bible fellowship as a charity is in a much better position, at least initially, to be able to serve that type of need than the corporation is.”
Fellowship member Bill Irving said the MOU was a vital first step towards getting started and that, once signed, the Fellowship could begin formally engaging local organizations that may have an interest in providing services in the community space.
“I think there’s a nice synergy…to try to bring not only the housing component but to service the people who are low income and struggling to plant their roots in their community,” he said.
“It’s one thing just to provide someone with housing, it’s another thing to provide them with the ability to actually raise their families and grow in this community and then start giving back.”
Tofino’s Chief Administrative Officer Bob MacPherson touted the MOU as an exciting partnership.
“Delivering housing is a costly business and there’s this gap that we’re all aware of between what folks can afford and what it actually costs to deliver, so we’re going to be looking, through this process, at creative ways that we can kind of lower what it costs to deliver the housing to try to close that gap and make housing more affordable for people,” he said.
Council unanimously approved signing off on the agreement, though Coun. Greg Blanchette wondered why the land would be transferred rather than leased to the Fellowship.
“The one enduring entity in this three-part agreement is the district of Tofino. Things could happen with the housing corporation. Things could happen with the bible fellowship. There are loans being talked about and I’m just wondering where the buck stops ultimately,” he said.
“Does the land need to be transferred or could the same thing happen with the land remaining under the district of Tofino so that we have some recourse and we’re not left with ownerless land should one or another of the other two organizations disappear somehow?”
MacPherson said conversations are still in the early stages and a lease could be discussed after the MOU was signed. He added a lease arrangement could impact financing possibilities.
After the meeting, a jubilated Irving told the Westerly News he was delighted by council’s support.
“There’s a huge celebration on Tuesday. That’s a massive step,” he said. “This MOU is the first very significant step that really says we’re headed down that road. We’re not just talking about it.”
He added funding applications have since been sent to CMHC for grants to cover engineering and site design costs before moving towards larger applications to cover the building costs of the 20 units and community space.
“I think the cash will start flowing fairly quickly because we’ve done a lot of preliminary work with the government agencies,” he said. “The outlook is that by the spring, we’ll have all the design and engineering stuff ready…and then we’re targeting next fall to start the actual build. So they should be available in the spring of 2019.”
He estimated the project will run around $4 million but said a precise figure won’t be known until assessments are complete.
“There’s a huge need and a worsening need for housing and the pieces seem to be falling together,” he said. “The doors seem to be opening and the funding seems to be available. Let’s take the leap and see if we can get this to happen.”