An innovative independent living facility for seniors is coming to Port Alberni at the site of the city’s former high school.
The former Alberni District Secondary School site on Burde Street was purchased by District Group in 2017. Since the purchase, a number of single-family homes and lots and a multi-family apartment complex have been built on the 23-acre site. A series of duplexes and fourplexes are currently under construction.
Earlier this month, District announced that they had sold a 2.5-acre property to Vancouver Resource Society (VRS) Communities Society to develop a non-profit housing complex for seniors and persons with disabilities. The property is located at Anderson Avenue and North Park Drive.
“Excited to see this sale complete as it facilitates a quality and well-needed development of seniors housing in our community,” Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions posted on social media after the announcement. “Thank you to the District Group and Vancouver Resource Society for their work on this project.”
VRS is a non-profit society that operates 11 sites around B.C. that provide accessible housing for seniors, families and people with disabilities.
Port Alberni city council has approved a development permit for VRS to build a five-storey, 102-unit, apartment-style complex of independent living suites. The complex will also include a clubhouse with amenities, such as a dining room, lounge, commercial kitchen, bistro, e-learning centre, fitness room, games room and community gardens.
“This is a very innovative concept for independent living,” explained Brad Tone, the VRS director of development. “We’ve created a clubhouse that is community-oriented in nature. This is something that seniors have been asking for.”
The units will all be one- or two-bedroom units that are accessible to someone in a wheelchair. Units will be fully independent, with a full kitchen, but seniors can choose meal services and housekeeping services as needed. They will also be pet-friendly.
“Pets are a part of the family,” said Tone.
Tone said the building will be “primarily” for seniors, but it is also open to other people with disabilities who need somewhere accessible to live.
The building will not be an extended care or long-term care facility, said Tone, but there will be care aides in the building to provide some services.
District president and CEO Michael Nygren said that District had been in discussions with Port Alberni city council about the need for seniors housing in Port Alberni.
“We’re so pleased to have sold this property to such a community-focused organization as VRS and look forward to see them realize this much-needed housing option for this area,” said Nygren. “A project of this nature and size will have a lasting social and economic impact for the city of Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley.”
Ken Fraser, executive director for VRS, said the society had been looking into Port Alberni for a while because it has one of the highest rental market saturation rates in the province. This refers to how quickly new properties fill up after construction.
Fraser liked the site because of its proximity to services (such as shopping and the local Echo Centre) and because of its park-like setting, surrounded by trees and trails.
“We just felt it was perfect for this kind of use,” said Fraser. “Sites of this quality seldom come available and we were looking to bring this much-needed housing offering to Port Alberni and the Alberni Valley.”
Fraser said that the City of Port Alberni has been “fantastic” to work with so far.
“You have some great community leaders that got behind us early on,” said Fraser. “Without that, this wouldn’t be able to happen.”
VRS is currently working with BC Housing on the financing aspect of the facility, after which construction will be able to begin. The VRS website currently estimates a 2023 opening.
“We are basically shovel-ready on this,” said Tone. “We’re very optimistic that we’re going to be moving ahead very shortly.”
Fraser explained that the units will not be subsidized, but he is planning for them to be affordable.
“We’ll be extremely competitive,” he added.
There are two components to the cost: the regular rental, as well as a service package (including things like housekeeping and meal service). Fraser said that VRS will first be targeting people looking for that package.
“We’ve done a lot of research and connection with people in the community,” said Tone. “We think this is going to be good for Port Alberni. Seniors need an age-in-place solution that allows them to come in at any point in their lives and live independently. When the time comes that they need more services and facilities, they’re right there in the building for them.”
VRS is planning to launch a website at www.timberlinenorthpark.com where people will be able to learn more about the housing project. The website will go live on Sept. 6.
You can learn more about VRS at www.vrs.org.