Critical link missing in Syrian housing bid

Official organization needed to take the helm to move project ahead

Oak Bay News

Oak Bay council supports “in principle” using a municipally owned home on Hampshire Road to house Syrian refugee families, but awaits commitment of a suitable community group to officially come forward.

An ad hoc group, led by Jan Mears, proposed using it for temporary refugee housing for two years, but without a lead agency, the district can’t do much, staff told council March 14.

Mears said a community gathering of people would like to give the home get a facelift then potentially offer two different Syrian families one year of housing before they settle permanent roots. The work, Mears said, would be done by volunteers and in-kind donations, and suggest a $900 per month rental.

“It’s already a community movement,” Mears said, outlining the two-year proposal to use the municipally-owned house on Hampshire Road.

“My preference would be to see what we’re going to do with (the property) first and see if this fits in with that,” said Coun. Kevin Murdoch.

The property is on council’s priority list, but the potential for temporary or affordable housing has not been mentioned. Until a few years ago it was a rental property. Council has yet to determine what to do with the land, though discussion surrounding it has included parking and parkland.

“I’m hoping you could see this as two years of support while you do that,” Mears said, noting Oak Bay bought the property more than 15 years ago.

Of major concern was the temporary aspect of the housing proposal. Two questions came to head on opposite ends of the spectrum: What if a family isn’t ready to move when their lease is up and what if they’re firmly ensconced in the community and can’t afford to remain?

“I would feel very responsible to make sure that next step is there,” said Coun. Michelle Kirby. “It feels like a very big decision and a very big commitment.”

Staff would start working on the legal and administrative protocols once an established group comes forward to take the lead in the partnership, council decided. That would offer municipal staff more information and parameters on what the group could provide, and what Oak Bay would require.

Council stipulated that a group would need to ensure they could do the work prior to September.

“Unfortunately this isn’t as simple as saying ‘go’ and running with it,” Murdoch said.

They agreed to accept the proposal in principal, provided a suitable organization that would commit to remediate the site by September comes forward.  Several parameters staff may address in any forthcoming report, should the proposal proceed, could include a little backstory on the district’s work as a landlord.

“I would love to have a sense of how many we are already landlord for and how that works,” said Coun. Eric Zhelka.

Staff did not have that information at hand.

Count. Tom Croft also suggested he’d like to see some history of the building as well.

“So we understand what that asset is,” he said, and ensure there are no outstanding legal or moral obligations.