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3 groups build relationships to house Ukranian family in Oak Bay

Inter-Cultural Association leads official pitch to lease district-owned homes

A pair of Oak Bay-owned homes are getting gussied up in preparation for potential new tenants.

As Ukrainian residents flee war, hundreds of thousands are applying to live in Canada. At last count, more than 300,000 applications have been received and 55,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Canada in the past six months, according to Karmen McNamara, founder of Help Ukraine Vancouver Island.

Residents in the region have opened homes, offered inexpensive rentals and even opened a refugee centre near Sooke.

Oak Bay invited organizations to pitch potential uses for the district-owned two-bedroom home on Hampshire Road and six-bedroom on Monterey Avenue.

The buildings have storied histories of community coming together to house those in need.

In early 2016 residents led a charge to clean up the unused home on Hampshire and provide potential refugee housing, arranging in-kind donations to start the process. Council supported the effort in principle but required commitment of a suitable community group to officially lead the project.

READ ALSO: Victoria refugee association ends Welcome House program in Oak Bay

In September 2020, Oak Bay and the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) signed a three-year agreement to house Syrian refugees. That lease terminated early, ending this May, but over its tenure the homes, dubbed Welcome Houses, supported one family and five individuals.

Dawn Williamson, a Monterey Avenue neighbour, is among the strong supporters of housing refugees on her street. She sees both the need and the community support.

“In my conversations with neighbours and friends in Oak Bay, I’ve encountered nothing but support for this initiative. People are anxious to support refugees from the war in Ukraine. Once people are living in our community, there will be a myriad of practical and local ways to do that, and Oak Bay residents are excited to become involved,” she said.

It’s a sentiment the Community Association of Oak Bay heard repeated among groups and residents. It led to a novel partnership between the local group, the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) and the Greater Victoria Housing Society (GVHS), with each organization bringing its expertise to the table.

READ ALSO: Sooke community offers family refuge from war

The partnership allows the GVHS to support ICA with property maintenance and financing, said executive director Virginia Holden. The non-profit housing provider maintains some 900 units of independent rental housing across the region for those with low to moderate incomes.

The community association is ready to continue cultivating the ready-and-waiting volunteer roster to bolster the ICA programs it has already honed for newcomers to Canada.

“The most pressing issue in this (Greater Victoria) community with very, very low vacancy rates and very, very high rents – is housing,” ICA CEO Jean McRae said.

With a proposal in place to put a family in the small Hampshire house at low cost rent, and council’s commitment Monday to pursue that lease, focus remains on the other, larger home on Monterey.

The Monterey house might be ideal for a handful of individuals, but many mothers and children are fleeing the war-torn country, McRae said.

“If we can make that work, we would give first priority to those single moms and their kids.”


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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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