Developers look to grow support for Fort St. John seniors housing project

·4 min read

A plan for a new seniors housing complex in Fort St. John has failed to secure provincial funding from BC Housing, but developers say they’re still moving forward with the project.

VRS Communities and Peace Holdings gave the Peace River Regional District board an update on their project last week, noting they were not successful in their application to the Community Housing Fund.

According to BC Housing, the fund is to provide close to $1.9 billion over 10 years to develop 14,350 units of affordable rental housing for independent families and seniors.

VRS Executive Director Ken Fraser said the funding that was being sought would have substantially driven down the cost of the project, estimated at $30 million.

“We’ll probably take one more crack at it a year from now but that will be something that we can’t count on, and we need to move forward on the basis that we may or may not get that,” Fraser said.

Proposed is a four-storey building adjacent to hospital off 86 Street called Harlequin at Prairie Rose Park, which would include 116 apartments. The building would also include a clubhouse, dining hall, commercial kitchen, meeting spaces, and grand courtyard, as well as housekeeping, meal prep, and recreational programming for residents.

The two companies are continuing to pursue other funding streams from government, as well as regular bank financing, Fraser noted, and have received a relaxation of developer cost charges from the city which they said will help contribute to the affordability of the project.

“Really excited about the community and the area. The amount of support we’re getting is phenomenal,” said Fraser. “We’re now just piecing it all together trying to get as much support as we can.”

“We are also working with Treaty 8 on this building and have had very productive talks with them, about having some of their members participating in this building and its care structure,” Fraser noted. “They are quite excited about it and so are we.”

There are about 200 people on seniors housing and assisted living wait lists at any given time in Fort St. John, and many leave the city because of their lack of options. The city's senior population 65 years and older is predicted to jump by 171% by 2036.

VRS, a Vancouver-based non-profit, was founded in 1972, and operates 40 buildings in B.C., including the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, and the Interior.

Harlequin is being planned for seniors 55 and older and persons with disabilities who are capable of living independently. Future phases of development would include a range of housing from bungalows to assisted living to palliative care, as well as commercial amenities and a multi-use medical complex that is also being planned in partnership with Treaty 8 First Nations.

Electoral Director Karen Goodings (Area B) asked where the Harlequin development falls under the PRRD's housing strategy mandated by the province.

Ron Brar of Peace Holdings responded that the building could be presented as a shovel-ready project.

“We’ve always envisioned an aging in place or intergenerational community on the site,” said Brar.

“This is exactly the type of project they want communities and regional districts to provide,” he said.

“This is a proponent coming forward, a non-profit fully capable of this type of project, coming forward and alleviating a need in the community that we as private developers, or even the city or the regional district, we could not take on ourselves.”

“This is part of a solution for the provincial housing strategy. When you guys are putting that together, you can say there is a project in the pipeline that's requesting assistance to make it more feasible.”

Brad Tone, director of development for VRS, says the project is contingent on community partnerships. Construction documents are being drafted to get shovels in the ground as soon as possible, and the hope is to build road access and install utility services this year.

“The community is designed to be open and inclusive where, in general, open pathways replace fences. It’s a bit of a new concept, but it’s something that we feel is important to the community,” said Tone.

Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News

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