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'Affordable' houses planned for site once eyed as an addictions recovery house

A new plan for an Ash Street property last eyed for a controversial addictions recovery centre is set to be quietly approved at city hall.

Turning Point Recovery Society previously proposed a 32-bed recovery centre at 8180 Ash St. before the neighbourhood vociferously fought to quash it.

Now city staff are recommending approval of a pilot project to build six "affordable" single-family houses on the 25,069-square-foot litter-strewn lot.

"By developing in accordance with the site's single-family zoning, the existing character of the neighbourhood is maintained," noted planner Diana Nikolic in her report.

The Provincial Rental Housing Corporation, which is BC Housing's land holding company, is requesting variances to squeeze six lots on the site, which is surrounded by other single-family homes.

According to Naomi Brunemeyer, manager of regional development for BC Housing, the houses would be made available to first-time homebuyers with a maximum income of $61,233—defined by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as low to moderate.

"The goal of the development on Ash Street is to create an affordable homeownership opportunity for families and individuals with low to moderate incomes," said Brunemeyer in a letter to the city.

Each house will include a secondary suite that can be rented to help the homeowner with their mortgage payments.

To keep the purchase price low, BC Housing will contribute the land at no cost and provide construction financing.

"The value of these contributions would be reflected in a reduced purchase price for the houses," wrote Brunemeyer.

BC Housing has never done this before, confirmed a spokesperson, who said it's too early to say how the buyers will be selected. The Crown agency plans to register either an affordable housing agreement or an alternate form of security on the title.

The subdivision is permitted under existing zoning, and construction should be complete within two years—provided city council approves the variances.

Neighbourhood resident Ernie Mendoza, a vocal opponent of Turning Point's plan, said he's "not opposed" to the new plan, but is concerned the city isn't providing "sufficient information" to the neighbourhood.

As for Turning Point's future expansion elsewhere in Richmond, Mendoza isn't convinced a recovery house is the solution.

"We are not opposed for an organization to help those who are addicted," he said. "We are against something that does not offer any any valued proof that what they do is effective at eliminateing and minimizing the consequences of addiction."

In 2007, Turning Point Recovery Society pitched a plan to build a recovery centre on Ash Street to add to its nine-bed house for men with addictions. In that proposal, 32 beds were planned, including ones for women and single mothers with young children.

Turning Point continues to work to meet the "critical need" for more addiction recovery beds, including for people more advanced in their recovery, according to executive director Brenda Plant. Turning Point is working with the city, BC Housing and other officials to solidify plans for a new house.

"We've never abandoned the idea of expansion. We are committed to finding a way to provide residential services for women in Richmond because there still are none," she said.

Plant still advocates for a continuum of services in one area, but given the neighbourhood backlash, that might not be possible in Richmond.

"What we realized following Ash Street was it was too big an undertaking for that property," she said.

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