The expansion of a supportive housing building for women and children in the Spruceland neighbourhood is moving forward despite opposition.
At its meeting last night (Feb. 22), Prince George city council passed the third reading for a rezoning amendment allowing the Phoenix Transition Society to expand their Harmony House operations on Zelkwas Avenue.
The two-story, 14-unit building will be developed with support from BC Housing and offer safe spaces to pregnant women and new mothers struggling with mental health and/or addictions.
Phoenix Transition Society already operates three housing facilities in the northern capital, offering emotional support, crisis intervention, safety planning, children support, referrals and specialized outreach.
The rezoning will also allow the proposed building to include on-site counselling and support services.
However, the application has caused concern among many Spruceland-area residents with 62 individuals signing a petition against the proposed development.
Others wrote letters to the City of Prince George further expressing concern over property values and crime.
“This is a nice quiet neighbourhood and people in this area are proud homeowners,” wrote resident Keith Annis.
“I also feel that, although I am for helping people in need, it will bring undesirables to the neighbourhood.”
More than 80 letters of correspondence were submitted regarding the proposal, but many of them also expressed support for the project.
“We welcome the project both as a partial solution for specific housing needs in our city and as the right thing to do when our citizens need a helping hand,” said residents Rob and Bonnie Watt.
Phoenix Transition Society has been in operation in the community for 46 years and the Harmony House program began in 2017 to help pregnant mothers and babies before moving onto independent living.
“To date, 89 per cent of the women who participated and completed in the Harmony House program are living independently with their children,” said Executive Director Karen Underhill in a letter to council.
“I can attest to the quality of work that is being done by Harmony House and work is done for women and children in this community has been absolutely amazing,” noted Coun. Murry Krause.
M’akola Development Services, who are undertaking the project, explain the site is a good location because it is within walking distance of Spruceland Shopping Centre, Rainbow Park and bus services on Fifth Avenue.
These nearby amenities would provide the women and children staying at Harmony House with convenient access to commercial services, transit and playspaces for children.
“We have seen more correspondence than I think I can ever recall on any agenda. There’s valuable information on both sides,” said Coun. Kyle Sampson.
“There’s a tremendous amount of supports from experts who know a heck of a lot more than I do who are saying a lot of things that make me believe this is the right move.”
The city received correspondence from School District 57 (SD57), the Elizabeth Fry Society, Central Interior Native Health Society, North Coast Transition Society, Northern FIRE: Feminist Institute for Research and Evaluation at UNBC, and many other organizations all in support of the development.
“As a physician working at Central Interior Native Health [Society], I have had the privilege of seeing Harmony House in action,” wrote Dr. Heather Smith.
“Pregnant patients have gone from living on the street, using drugs daily, to parents who can take active roles in their children’s lives, have the tools they need to parent successfully and expand their lives beyond their previous trauma.”
The city also noted in its report to council that the Official Community Plan encourages the development of a full range of housing types and tenures so that people of all ages, income levels and abilities have housing choices throughout the community.
“If this wasn’t so important to the community overall I wouldn’t support it, but this is much needed,” said Coun. Brian Skakun.
“We could have 12 of these Harmony House-type facilities in our community because there is a need.”
Mayor Lyn Hall took a few moments to thank the residents who wrote in support of and against the project.
“I have great confidence in what this housing is going to provide in the community and the fact of the matter is, it is substantial and it has hit the mark and I think residents will be impressed by the housing when it is completed.”
When it came to a vote, the third reading for the rezoning was passed unanimously by council.