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Few tenants with disabilities able to access Ladysmith affordable housing

Original vision of one-third of units for adults with developmental disabilities doesn’t materialize
The Heart on the Hill affordable housing building was originally planned with intentions for one-third of the units to be rented to persons with developmental disabilities, but that didn’t happen. (News Bulletin photo)

A Ladysmith affordable housing project that was built partly with the intent of housing adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities has parents “heartbroken” after they say only one unit is being rented to a tenant with that sort of disability.

Sheila McMillan said her daughter Amy, who has a developmental disability, wanted a suite in the building since the idea came to fruition, and she even sold cards to help fundraise for the community kitchen. However, after leadership changes within the Ladysmith Resources Centre Association and confusion with B.C. Housing’s processes, she was unable to rent an apartment there.

“My daughter is supported by [Community Living B.C.] to live on her own and has lived on her own for 16 years, and yet, she was deemed by the person doing the interviews unsafe to live in that building,”said McMillan. “It was a dream that was totally shattered.”

In 2015, Sandra Marquis, then president of the Ladysmith Supported Housing Committee, approached the LRCA with the intention of building affordable housing for adults with developmental disabilities, and the idea eventually grew into the Heart on the Hill project.

According to McMillan, who was among the first members of the committee, the original proposal for the 36-unit complex was 12 units were to go to those living with disabilities, 12 units for seniors and 12 to go to families, singles, youths, and others.

The affordable housing project proposal was accepted by B.C. Housing in 2018. However, after a leadership change in the LRCA in 2021, McMillan noticed information about the Heart on the Hill project was no longer mentioning that it would provide housing for those with developmental disabilities, which “seemed suspicious.”

READ MORE: Tenants to start moving into new affordable housing in Ladysmith at end of next month

When the committee tried to get more information from the LRCA on what was happening, “we were told no, there was absolutely no commitment, no evidence of commitment to the one-third [of the units] allocating to the three different groups.”

Former LRCA board members were able to confirm the original intention of the project. Committee members including McMillan and Marquis spoke with B.C. Housing and set up a meeting with the LRCA in June 2022 to try to reinstate the original commitment, but despite what they felt was “overwhelming support,” the board declined the motions.

READ MORE: Ladysmith affordable housing project getting ready to open doors to the community

In early fall of 2022, the committee filed a human rights complaint through the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal against B.C. Housing, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, and the LRCA; and at the resource centre’s annual general meeting in November, Marquis won the presidency of the LRCA to try to change things before the building opened, but it was too late.

“The new LRCA board raised awareness of the membership direction on the housing project and the potential impacts of not prioritizing units for the most vulnerable group – persons with IDD – to B.C. Housing. However, B.C. Housing held the LRCA to the legal obligations in the operating agreement signed in 2021,” noted a release from the LRCA board this past July. “The new board also negotiated with B.C. Housing to reduce the average rental amount required for rent-geared-to-income suites. Rents were reduced but not enough to make them affordable for many people with a low income living in Ladysmith.”

Only one deep-subsidy unit was made available for those with developmental disabilities and they are the only units affordable to those living on disability housing assistance which is $500 per month.

“Currently there is high interest for the new building, and it is imperative that a clear, fair and consistent process is followed for tenanting the building at the prescribed income mix so that the LRCA generates sufficient rental revenue to operate successfully and in accordance with [community housing fund] program parameters,” noted a letter to the committee from B.C. Housing.

Over the summer, all of the available suites were rented out and tenants started moving in. McMillan said “there’s probably at least 80 per cent or more seniors in that building, and if that’s not prioritizing a certain group, I don’t know what is.”

The human rights complaint experienced multiple delays but the case is still ongoing.

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Bailey Seymour

About the Author: Bailey Seymour

After graduating from SAIT and stint with the Calgary Herald, I ended up at the Nanaimo News Bulletin/Ladysmith Chronicle in March 2023
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