Atira project clears 'major hurdle'

PoCo council gives tentative go-ahead to society's project to provide affordable rental housing to women

A contentious project providing housing for women and children got a tentative go-ahead from Port Coquitlam council Tuesday clearing the way for tenants to move in as early as the summer of 2020.

The Atira Women's Resource Society is "ecstatic" its proposal to build rental housing for women, children and families, a medical clinic, and a childcare facility received unanimous approval on third reading from council following a public hearing.

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The Alex will be built on four lots owned by Metro Vancouver on the northwest corner of Prairie Avenue and Flint Street, across from Kwayhquitlum middle school, and will be leased on a long-term basis by Atira.

"We're thrilled obviously," said Atira chief executive officer Janice Abbott in an interview with The Tri-City News. "Aside from assuring the funding is in place, but this is absolutely the biggest hurdle.

"This is an important project for Port Coquitlam."

The development will include 11 townhouses and a five-storey building with 76 units ranging from studios of 320 square feet to 1,300 sq. ft. four-bedroom residences. It will also include a childcare facility for about 40 children operated by Altira and a medical clinic.

Residents of the Tri-Cities and women and children from the Kwikwetlem First Nation will have priority. Although the final monthly rents won't be determined until its built, Abbott acknowledged they would likely be in the range of $325 for a studio up to $1,700 for the larger units. 

It will be a mixed-income building with a third of the rents targeted at what the maximum shelter allowance women and families on income assistance receive. Another third will be based on 30% of gross annual household income and another third at 10% to 20% below local-area market rents. Abbott said it's housing that will help women working at regular jobs in the community such as a grocery store employee or medical assistant.

"It provides an affordable housing to folks that often get missed in this housing equation," said Abbott.

She noted about half of the 100 or so people who have expressed interest in The Alex are older women living in the area either under-housed or paying too much rent.

"Clearly that's a big need in that community," said Abbott.

The project has undergone some changes since Atira first presented its plans at an open house a year ago. Abbott said a lot of the concern came from stereotypes about who will live there and the assumption the medical facility would be a methadone clinic or a safe injection site.

"That myth got spread around somehow, and this is absolutely a clinic for family doctors and a clinic for the community at large," said Abbott.

It will be built to house up to eight physicians potentially serving 8,000 for an underserved area that has trouble enticing doctors to practice because of high rents.

"My understanding is the Fraser Health Authority will be able to attract doctors based on being able to offer space at the low end of market or at reasonable rates," said Abbott.

Fourth and final reading won't until a few more details are worked out. A staff report to council said a housing agreement will ensure the site can only be used by a non-profit society providing affordable rental accommodation, medical services and a childcare facility.

Staff recommended council require land be set aside to make sure there is safe visibility at the intersection and the laneway entrance. The unusual angle of Flint Street south of Prairie is being evaluated on how to make it safer. The report said the requirements are expected to include upgrading the streets, sidewalks separated from the streets, trees and lights. The developer, TL Housing, will have to submit the plans that include a design to improve the intersection's geometry along with full signalization.

"We'll work with the staff with the city of Port Coquitlam o to establish any prior-to conditions," said Abbott.

She estimated construction should begin in the first half of 2019 and will take about 15 months to complete.

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