Apr 2021 | Community Profile
What does it take for a community to thrive?
Pacifica Housing says that it takes many different types of people living amongst each other. And providing equitable housing is how you get there.
But “equitable” means meeting people where they are at. It means housing that is attainable and appropriate for people with different income levels, different experiences and different cultural backgrounds. It means creating housing that works for individuals and their circumstances.
So, to get to that thriving community, you need to provide diverse housing options.
That is what Pacifica Housing does, in pursuit of creating those diverse, thriving communities, says Pacifica’s Chief Executive Officer, Carolina Ibarra.
Pacifica Housing is one of Vancouver Island’s largest and longest-standing non-profits, providing housing and supportive services, in existence for 37 years.
The organizations owns and/or operates 37 housing properties in the Greater Victoria and Nanaimo areas, in addition to helping people to get into private market housing.
Pacifica’s housing options fall into three categories, says Carolina:
The first is independent living, meaning that it’s for residents who can live without extra supports, but who can’t afford housing at private market rates.
“We provide low-end-of-market, rent-geared-to-income, and deep subsidy [options],” says Carolina. “And that is because affordability means something different to everybody. So for someone on income assistance, $375 a month is a stretch. But even for some families earning $80,000 a year, affording family housing in the private market can be very … almost unobtainable in many parts of this province.”
In Nanaimo, Pacifica has five independent-living housing locations. Two of those include reduced market units, while the rest are subsidized housing locations.
The second type of housing is supportive housing, meaning affordable housing along with other kinds of supports. This kind of housing is for those who have barriers to housing, like mental health challenges, addictions issues, or who have been chronically homeless due to discrimination and other factors, says Carolina.
But within this category, different options are needed.
“Someone who is homeless can need very light supports because they just fell onto hard times economically. And then someone else who is homeless may have been- for example- a young, teenage girl who became homeless in their youth because of abuse, and then just never was able to get the supports they needed to move forward. So there is a wide variety of reasons why someone can become homeless. And once you become homeless, it’s hard to pick yourself up.”
In Nanaimo, Pacifica Housing’s Uplands Walk property has 34 units for those who have been homeless, and who are more than 45 years old. There is 24/7 support, food programming and more.
Pacifica also runs the temporary Nikao supportive housing complex, a low-barrier housing site which provides daily meals, on site health services, and helps tenants build life skills such as paying rent and taking on small jobs as part of the Community Volunteer Program, connecting to banking services, appointments – the things they may not have had the opportunity to do before.
Finally, the third type of housing, and a more recent one for Pacifica, is providing senior supported housing. This came about organically, said Carolina, with Pacifica looking to fill a gap in Nanaimo with Pacifica Seniors Lodge.
It provides housing for seniors who have low incomes and can’t live independently anymore, but who are not ready for long term care yet. Supports are relatively light, but important for residents.
Carolina sees the lodge as just the start, as the population of those needing this kind of housing is only going to grow.
Pacifica Housing believes in housing first, meaning that, for people to move out of survival mode and begin working on their futures, they need housing. And Carolina sees how this philosophy has led to success.
Residents of Nikao, for instance, can stabilize and work to unpack years of trauma and stigma, and maintain healthier and more positive housing outcomes. Some move on to other kinds of supportive housing, like Pacifica Seniors Lodge or Uplands, which are also steps towards greater independence.
While Pacifica Housing provides housing, putting someone in a room isn’t the end goal, says Carolina – housing is a tool to help people lead healthy lives.
“Housing is a social determinant of health,” she says. “The goal is the person, it’s not the physical walls [around them]. And what the housing and support services allow us to do is provide folks the choice of their best possible future.”
As a member of the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition, Carolina says that Pacifica Housing will look to bring this perspective to the table, as well as the need to avoid cookie-cutter solutions, and instead provide diverse housing options that have the right resources to support people.
Recognizing the need in Victoria and Nanaimo, Carolina says that Pacifica Housing is looking for development and acquisition opportunities in both communities.