ACS Housing Proposal – Flawed Or Hijacked?

Much has already been said since last Monday’s Council’s decision to deny Abbotsford Community Services (“ACS”), supportive housing initiative, which would have seen BC Housing contribute $2,400,000 toward the construction of the building and another $12,900,000 (60 years x $215,000 per year), for operational costs.

A repeated comment made by those who oppose the ACS project is that the negotiation process was flawed, implying that something “underhanded” or “sneaky” was going on behind the scenes. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The process began in September of 2008 with the signing of a Memorandum Of Understanding (“MOU”) between the City and BC Housing. Two projects were completed (Christine Lamb, and George Schmidt Centre at Kinghaven), in May 2012 and February 2013. That left a 20 unit “low barrier” supportive housing project for men to be built.

Expressions of Interest (“EOI”), for the 3rd “low barrier” housing site predate my time on Council, which means that the process was well under way prior to December 5, 2011, the date of my first Council meeting.

Eventually a second ACS public forum was held and comments were made that the ACS proposal was the City’s remaining outstanding obligation to fulfill its commitment pursuant to the MOU. In other words, since only 30 of the 50 units slated for the Emerson & Peardonville site were constructed at Kinghaven, the remaining 20 units would have to be constructed at a third location. We know from the public record that plans for the 30 units at Kinghaven were announced in April 2011. That means that the original MOU would have been amended to reflect the scope change of the project prior to April, 2011, in order to permit the 20 “low barrier” housing units to be built at a third location.

During the Public Hearing, representatives from both BC Housing and ACS, in response to allegations that something “underhanded” had taken place between the proponent and the City, replied that the City had been involved in the Request For Proposal (“RFP”). Additionally, that Council had agreed in Principle to donate a portion of Montvue Avenue in order to ensure that ACS had sufficient lands to construct the proposed building. Without that agreement in Principle (during the first half of 2012), the project could not have proceeded at the proposed location.

If those on Council who are now opposed to this project were concerned about the location/zoning, they should have voiced their concerns thenand voted against the request to cede a portion of Montvue Avenue to the ACS. This could have stopped the project in its tracks and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer and donor dollars could have been saved. Instead BC Housing and ACS were subjected to significant costs, which included architectural drawings, consultants, legal fees to name a few, not to mention all of the staff time that all three organizations invested in the process.

When BC Housing released ACS from the confidentiality agreement, ACS made the public and the ADBA aware of the conditional award in June 2013. Shortly thereafter, the City began to look at alternative sites. All of the alternate locations were acceptable to ACS, PROVIDED, that the City would pick up the costs for redesigning their plans and the additional operational costs over the life of the project. To suggest that ACS was not prepared to move to alternate sites is simply false.

What is puzzling, at least to me, is that one of the alternate sites proposed by the City was located within the ADBA. During a discussion that I had with the President of the ADBA, he stated he expected the ADBA would endorse that alternate site. The proposed alternate site is 120 meters closer to the intersection of Essendene and Montrose, the heart of the historic downtown, than the ASC site. If the City had agreed to reimburse ACS for the cost of redoing the drawings and paying for the increased operational costs, ACS and BC Housing would have accepted the alternate site and the ADBA would have supported it.

The notion that Fraser Health Authority would provide land for a “low barrier” housing project after defeating the Bylaw is beyond belief. Moreover, the MOU makes it clear that it is City’s responsibility to provide the land, not Fraser Health Authority. Since we walked away from our commitments to BC Housing & ACS, why would Fraser Health Authority even want to entertain the idea of getting involved knowing that Council has already turned down two sites? Without a shred of evidence to support the claim that Fraser Health Authority is even remotely interested, Council walked away from 6 years of work and $15.3 million dollars that BC Housing had committed to this City.

It is unfortunate that claims are now being made that the negotiation process was flawed, especially since the ACS process was the same one used for the other two projects (Christine Lamb & George Schmidt). From this Councillor’s perspective, the process was not flawed but appears to have been hijacked while trying to rewrite history.