Cairine Green calls it a “catalyst” for conversation, kicking off a plan to renovate a municipally owned home on Hampshire for potential use as Syrian refugee housing.
“This is such a no-brainer if we get the facelift,” said Green, who expects they can round up in-kind donations enough to create a revenue-neutral renovation.
“We’re talking about doing it as a community-building project,” said Jan Mears, who took the lead after Green proposed the idea.
“Something like HeroWork or Habitat for Humanity, where people come together and donate time, resources and skill,” added Green.
They are attempting to sort out how municipal work could be done outside of the union because: “We don’t want to be in a labour dispute,” Mears said. “It’s really about lining all these things up.”
The Community Association of Oak Bay sponsored a meeting late last month to offer information about the proposal, and the expected Syrian refugee influx in general. “The meeting was very positive,” said Mears. “Out of it came a number of volunteers offering a variety of skills.”
One donation of a building inspection already provided some information she’ll officially share with the district during the council meeting Monday night. The chimney needs immediate work due to water infiltration; the roof should be replaced and the furnace could use some work.
“We’ve had an electrical firm volunteer to remove the knob and tube,” Mears said.
Along with little issues like a hot water heater, the simple things due to lack of attention could be addressed with a good power wash, a little landscaping and paint.
Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen expects municipal staff will anticipate the issue and have a basic report to aid in council offering further direction.
“They’re more of a catalyst for the idea. it obviously will take a lot more detail to work out all of the steps necessary to rehabilitate the house for use,” said Jensen. “It’s certainly something that if it can be done, to show our community’s compassion and want to be a part of the solution for these refugees.”
The two-bedroom house is “a limited size” he noted, and wouldn’t be suitable for some of the larger extended Syrian families fleeing to Canada.
Mears says they plan to ask for a two-year commitment to temporary, transitional housing for refugee families. “That’s a reasonable window for us to look at,” Jensen said. The lot was purchased some years ago so “that it could be used in some part at least as a parking area as the village grew and became more prosperous.”
The work needed to determine what would be appropriate on the lot, and in what proportions, are not complete.
“That kind of public engagement process could take a while, so in the interim the use of the house for Syrian refugees might be exactly what council would support,” Jensen said. “It will take some time to work out the details. The house is not now in the condition where it could be rented out.”
They plan to seek a below-market rent at around $900, that would create revenue on the property that has remained empty the past few years. Mears hopes other things come up for consideration, such as waiving permit fees and offering staff time and expertise for oversight “so their expectations are met.”
“We’re not here to put a burden on staff,” Mears said.
With volunteer work and in-kind donation, Jensen agrees it could be ready to receive a family “in fairly short order if that’s what council decides.”
Mears says two different faith groups – both already seeking housing for Syrian families – are potential partners they expect to have in place by the time she speaks to council March 14.