By Lethbridge Herald on January 13, 2021.
The Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce held a virtual town hall on Tuesday night with representatives of the Mustard Seed over the organization’s plan to rezone the Ramada Inn on 1303 Mayor Magrath Drive from a commercial property into a long-term supportive housing facility in the community.
The town hall allowed Mustard Seed CEO Stephen Wile, managing director Byron Bradley and Lethbridge project manager Taylor Kawaguchi to answer questions on the areas of location, operations and community safety.
Stephen Mogdan moderated on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce.
Wile said the Mustard Seed has searched out several different potential sites and, after evaluation, determined the Ramada Inn and nearby Chinook Motel were the best fits for a supportive housing site in Lethbridge.
“It is important to understand the funding for these apartments is coming from the federal government,” he explained. “It’s a rapid housing initiative. Therefore, it narrows down the properties that might be available for us to purchase.
The only projects they would be willing to fund are either in the ground ready to start building, and of course we don’t have any of those projects in Lethbridge, but the other would be hotel conversion. That’s why we have focused on hotels these last number of months.
“In fact, we looked at over a half a dozen locations, and we took into account things like transit, grocery stores, the shapes the buildings are in. A couple of the ones defined as hotels, it would likely cost less to rebuild the entire hotel. So we had to make some decisions, and the Ramada Inn was in great shape, and it had access to all of these other amenities; so that’s the reason why we chose the Ramada,” he said.
The Mustard Seed representatives were asked by several questioners at the town hall about accountability if residents were causing disturbances or committing crimes outside of the building.
Managing director Bradley reiterated past assertions that the Mustard Seed was known to help reduce crime in the areas where it operates by expecting strict accountability from its residents, its no loitering policy, an open door policy with police, and an ongoing community engagement initiatives.
And while he admitted these facilities were emergency shelters and not supportive housing like would be located at the Ramada in Lethbridge, Bradley provided statement and testimonials from the Red Deer RCMP and Edmonton Police Service who noticed a statistical drop in crime once the Mustard Seed took over operations of these facilities.
Bradley also stated they have a robust and ongoing community engagement strategy at their other facilities even after they open guided by a strong sense of community accountability.
While not explicitly referring to ARCHES by name, moderator Stephen Mogdan noted, in response to Bradley, that there had been another community organization, admittedly not the Mustard Seed, that had established itself in the city once upon a time, and also said it would be accountable to nearby business owners and residents with a robust community engagement strategy which turned out to be mostly “lip-service.” He asked what assurances could the Mustard Seed give residents that their commitment to ongoing community accountability would be more than that?
“We truly trust what reality will look like what we have been describing the last hour and a half,” he said. “We have one purpose with two tenets. Our purpose at the Mustard Seed is to eliminate homelessness, and reduce poverty, in the cities we serve. At the crossroads of both of those is housing, because if we can get people into housing we can move them from the shifting sand of homeless or inadequate housing to that foundational place where they can start building a life. That is the reason why we are here.”
Other new details emerged about the proposed development under questioning from the audience Tuesday night. The new facility would not just be for homeless people, it would also be a potential place to stay for low income people making under $30,000 per year and who may spend more than half of their income on rent. The facility will be “sober” not “dry,” meaning that like in any personal apartment those who wish to have a beer, for example, can do so in the privacy of their own apartment, if they are not recovering from alcohol addiction, but they must retain a dry character in all public areas of the facility. Smoking will not be allowed in personal apartments, but to try and avoid loitering on cigarette breaks outside the building there will be a designated smoking room constructed in the building. The Mustard Seed, like other charities which run facilities in the community, will be seeking municipal property tax exemptions if the Ramada rezoning is approved.
The Town Hall was full Tuesday night, limiting the amount of participants, but the Chamber of Commerce will be providing another virtual town hall opportunity on Jan. 19. Preregistration available on the Chamber’s website.
In a signal for how complex the debate surrounding the proposed rezoning leading up to the public hearing in early February will be, city council actually debated whether or not to pass First Reading of the bylaw change to rezone during Tuesday’s council meeting instead of passing it pro forma as per usual to set up a public hearing date. It passed by a vote of 7-2 with Councillors Mauro and Hyggen opposed.
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