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City must consider 'community impact' before funding supportive housing, council rules

Shepherds of Good Hope wants to demolish this derelict building on Merivale Road to make way for a new supportive housing facility. It would be be the charity's fourth such facility in the area. (Arthur White-Crummey/CBC - image credit)
Shepherds of Good Hope wants to demolish this derelict building on Merivale Road to make way for a new supportive housing facility. It would be be the charity's fourth such facility in the area. (Arthur White-Crummey/CBC - image credit)

The City of Ottawa must consider the potential impact on the surrounding community before allocating money from a federal housing fund to supportive housing projects, councillors decided Wednesday.

The debate arose as Shepherds of Good Hope aims to demolish a derelict building at 1093 Merivale Rd. to make way for a fourth supportive housing facility in the city's Carlington neighbourhood.

The proposed six-storey building would house 70 people, according to the charity.

There is no direct correlation to Shepherds of Good Hope and crime in the area in terms of a spike with us moving in. - Stephen Bartolo, Shepherds of Good Hope CEO

Shepherds of Good Hope operates an adjacent supportive housing building at 1095 Merivale Rd., plus two nearby facilities including The Oaks, home to a managed alcohol program.

River ward Coun. Riley Brockington's motion, which passed 17-7, asked council to consider the "cumulative effect and community impact" of such projects before agreeing to direct funding toward them. Brockington said residents of his ward have expressed concerns about increasing crime in the neighbourhood.

"Since the Shepherds moved in with their third facility, as of last summer, there have been a number of issues," he said. "These are not exaggerated."

Coun. Riley Brockington brought the motion forward, saying he's heard many concerns from residents of River Ward.
Coun. Riley Brockington brought the motion forward, saying he's heard many concerns from residents of River Ward.

Coun. Riley Brockington says he's heard concerns from River Ward residents about the high concentration of supportive housing facilities in their midst. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

The funding in question comes from the federal government's Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF), which pledged $176 million toward housing in Ottawa. Ninety per cent of that money was allocated to affordable housing projects that are ready to build but lack funding, such as the proposed Shepherds facility.

Currently, 26 facilities spread across the city are eligible for the funding.

Charity engaged in 'myth-busting'

Shepherds of Good Hope CEO Stephen Bartolo said he hopes the new stipulation won't impede future projects.

"There's actually going to be less beds than before we moved in," Bartolo said, noting 110 people once lived in a rooming house on the property. "We're not talking about increasing the concentration in the ward."

Bartolo said the charity has been "working really hard to do a lot of myth-busting."

"We have been able to look at crime data over the last three months where it clearly shows there is no direct correlation to Shepherds of Good Hope and crime in the area in terms of a spike with us moving in," he said, adding the project is a long way from shovels in the ground.

"We're not talking about building [tomorrow]," he said. "This project is not near that stage."

Bartolo said the organization will take community concerns into account.

"If we feel that the temperament at the time is not to build and we need to wait a little bit more time, then that's what we'll do," he said.

A development notice near the site of the proposed Shepherds of Good Hope supportive housing building on Merivale Road.
A development notice near the site of the proposed Shepherds of Good Hope supportive housing building on Merivale Road.

A notice marks the site of Shepherds of Good Hope's proposed supportive housing building on Merivale Road. An adjacent facility run by the charity is seen in the background. (Arthur White-Crummey/CBC)

Bartolo pointed out that there's currently a desperate need for housing, and said the new building would house people who are already stable and living in supportive housing elsewhere.

People experiencing chronic homelessness will be distributed to facilities throughout the city, he said.

"That will have less community impact ... than putting them all in the same community at the same time," he said. "We're talking about housing that needed to get built yesterday."

Community engagement officer hired

Despite those assurances, Brockington insisted Shepherds has not properly recognized the community's concerns.

"They won't even acknowledge to my face that there are issues happening in the community ... despite all the evidence, all the calls and service requests that I can show them," he said.

"If it's people coming directly from the shelter system into a residential community, you better have resources on site in your facility to help these residents."

Bartolo said Shepherds has hired a community engagement officer to speak with residents and businesses, and better understand their concerns.

"The more we're going out engaging, we feel very confident that the majority of the people in that ward understand the importance of supportive housing and understand the importance of Shepherds of Good Hope," he said.

"I want to see this succeed," Brockington agreed. "Really, this is to get Shepherds' attention and say you need to invest [in] sufficient ... services for our residents."