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Supportive home and health facility proposed for NR Motors site

City manager Kathleen Soltis talks about the proposed housing facility on First Avenue. Bill Phillips photo

Residents got a better look at a new housing development set for First Avenue last night.

A public information session was held to provide information on the project that would bring together new affordable housing and health-care services to support people in Prince George.

The project, slated for the NR Motors property, is a partnership between the city and Northern Health with BC Housing leading construction of the project, to be built in two phases. The first phase would include approximately 50 supportive homes for people experiencing homelessness and the second phase would include 50 affordable rental homes for low- to moderate-income individuals and families. Experienced non-profit housing providers would be selected to oversee the day-to-day management of both buildings.

“We’re very early in the process,” said city manager Kathleen Soltis. “Ultimately there’s going to need to be an Official Community Plan amendment and rezoning for the property.”

The city is acting as the developer and will submit the rezoning and OCP change.

Malachy Tohill, regional director for BC Housing, said the project is the first of its kind in northern B.C.

Malachy Tohill of BC Housing. Bill Phillips photo

“What’s unique is it’s the housing, with supports,” he said. “But it also has the health services component on the first floor for those residents and for the general public … This is great for Prince George. We’re trying to address some of the issues downtown and those suffering from mental health and addiction issues and provide them a better quality of life.”

Each building will include ground-floor health-care space that will deliver services for both residents and the public. Northern Health, in partnership with other health-service agencies, would oversee these spaces and provide primary care, harm reduction and specialized mental health and substance-use services. The proposed project addresses recommendations in Northern Health’s 2017 downtown health-services plan.

“When you move people from the street into their own housing and create a safe, stable environment, that is the first step for people being able to move on with a better quality of life,” he said. “BC Housing is providing 24/7 staffing, we’re providing a meal program … all those things that help support those individuals … Yes it should have an impact on the street, that’s why we’re doing this.”

The units living units, which means residents will be prohibited from using inside their own unit.

“People are allowed to use in these units,” said Tohill. “It is their own independent unit. That is a choice they make. With the support services and the housing, we will be working with them to, hopefully, move them into a better quality of life and make better choices around their life.”

The city has an agreement with NR Motors to purchase the property, subject to rezoning, an amendment to the official community plan, environmental and geotechnical review, and project approval. According to NR Motors, the company has outgrown its current site and is planning to move to a different location.

“Part of what we were looking for was a piece of land that is big enough to accommodate everything that is going to be on site,” said Soltis of the decision to purchase the NR Motors site. “There needs to be about 20,000 square feet of health related support services. This is one of the few sites we found that is big enough and centrally-located enough to provide for the needs that we want to have on the site.”

She said the site located close to downtown but isn’t located in the retail district.

“(Homeless) people are in the downtown and they accessing services, as they should be, but there are some issues that are causing businesses a bit of angst,” said Soltis. “With this project, there’s going to be housing with some vulnerable folks who live there. They will be housed in nice housing. It won’t be shelter-type residences.”

Northern Health will be examining all of its services to see what will be a fit in the new facility, which could include the needle exchange and/or primary care.

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