After a lengthy public hearing this week, Lethbridge Housing is left waiting to see if it will get zoning to provide 24 hour support for clients at two locations. The organization came to city council on Tuesday asking for a pair of zoning amendments for two apartment complexes downtown; Castle apartments at 215 – 2 Ave. S and Halmrast Manor at 535 8 St. S.
The proposal for Castle Apartments caused confusion because the original wording for the proposed bylaw said Lethbridge Housing Authority was looking to create a shelter. Robin James, chief administrative officer for the organization, said the intent was never to create a shelter, but to provide 24 hour support for clients, which would help keep them housed.
BACKGROUND: Lethbridge Housing Authority looking to provide 24 hour support at two locations
She asked council to delete “shelter” and “resource centre” from allowable uses in the proposed bylaw and requested the only allowable use be supportive housing, unrestricted.
A concierge program was previously funded at the apartment, which James said helped keep clients from being evicted. The program allows social workers to be on site during the day to help with guest management and James said there are significantly more evictions and issues in times when the program is not operational
“What it essentially does is provide somebody that stands at the front door or sits at the front door, that has the knowledge and ability to connect people to services that are required,” James said. She added having security and support through the night is also important. When the program is operational, social workers are not on site through the night, but with the proposed zoning, they would be.
Halmrast Manor houses mostly clients 50 years and older, as well as some people who are coming out of homelessness, according to James. Lethbridge Housing is seeking the same rezoning to allow a social worker to be present 24 hours — currently one can only be accessed by appointment.
Many residents expressed concerns about crime and safety in the downtown and the effect they perceived the zoning changes could have on it. Some also pointed to city council and said they would like to see a full plan to address homelessness, rather than one off requests.
“We are the forgotten people — the forgotten people are the people that pay their taxes and are asked to shut up because we are going to do more for them,” said Mike Vercillo, who owns property near Halmrast Manor. “It’s getting to the point where we are not going to shut up anymore. It’s getting to that point. I think from what I am hearing, people are starting to get fed up with the high crime rate and the things that we have to put up with and more of the same won’t work. More housing, more food, more needles, just breed more of the same.”
Other speakers were worried about the impact of direct control zoning, which Lethbridge Housing is seeking. City staff clarified that if Lethbridge Housing wanted to do anything that was outside of the zoning it would have to come back to council. If council amends the wording of the proposed bylaw, as James requested, the only permitted use will be supportive housing.
“The reason we went direct control with just the supportive housing was specific to ensuring to our neighbours, what we are asking for today will be all it is,” James said. “It is not an objective of myself or my board under any circumstance to ever jeopardize or out at risk the downtown core.” James said she hopes having the new zoning and being able to keep people from being evicted will help free up shelter space for people who are harder to house.
Council recessed the public hearing and did not decide whether or not to grant the zoning amendments. Councillors were presented with an opportunity to carry all three readings at the same time, but this would have required a unanimous vote and members of council said they would like time to reflect on the discussion. The public hearing will resume on Jan. 24 at 3 p.m.