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Renovations in the works to turn hotel into supportive housing

BC Housing will be completing about $3 million in renovations to convert the hotel into 96 supportive housing units
The North Star is located on Victoria Street near Parkwood Mall.

BC Housing hosted an online community dialogue session this week, where they outlined their plans for convert the North Star Inn at 1550 Victoria Street into supportive housing.

Kirsten Bailie, senior manager of development, explained that the site will eventually provide up to 96 supportive homes, plus outdoor space for tenant use and parking.

Supportive housing means it will also include 24/7 support services such as meals, life and employment skills training, and health and wellness supports.

The site will be run by the Connective Support Society, which operates throughout B.C. and the Yukon and which also operates the supportive housing site on First Avenue in Prince George.

“In our 2021 report on homeless count, Prince George counted 186 individuals who were homeless, and we anticipate that this number is higher now,” said Andressa Thompson, nonprofit portfolio manager for BC Housing.

She added that social service providers report more people at risk and an increase waitlist to get into supportive housing with local shelters typically at capacity in the winter months.

“Without access to basic needs of food and a place to live people without homes do not have the capacity to deal with anything beyond basic survival, which may result in dependents to drug and alcohol and mental health challenges,” she noted.

“People who live with substance use issues will not be excluded from applying to supportive housing. If we exclude people with substance use issues, they will remain on the street or in shelters with deteriorating health. They cannot start their journey to a healthier life until they have a roof over their heads.”

She said a community advisory committee will come together to assist with the resident selection process, which will include representatives from BC Housing, Connective, Northern Health, Indigenous leaders, other non-profit organizations, law enforcement, and chambers of commerce and any other community representation that’s needed.

These units are also considered net-new, meaning they are not replacing existing supportive housing options in the city.

However, Bailie noted that the 96 units will be available gradually and not all at once, as the site will be undergoing about $3 million in renovations.

“BC housing has been what we're calling repurposing older hotels, it is really part of breathing life back into some hotels, and also requires a change of use,” she explained. 

“For a hotel, it’s short-term stays, sometimes there’s a kitchen and sometimes there's not. We do need to do renovations to change the use to meet the needs of the new residents that will be moving in.”

She said when BC Housing is purchasing a site, they first look at what is available for sale, whether it’s in good condition, and its proximity to community services and transportation.

Bailie said they will be adding some safety and security upgrades, including a new security system, new fire alarm system, additional emergency lighting, new heating and plumbing system, and perimeter fencing.

They will also be renovating the restaurant at the front of the property to make sure the commercial kitchen equipment meets all the health and safety standards.

Thompson added that all residents will be paying rent, at a subsidized rate which works out to be about $375 per month, and they will each have to sign a program agreement around expectations and behaviours.

She said the building will also be designed with features to blend into the community.

“We don't want the intention of making it appear institutional, we want it to be part of the community.”

The first residents are anticipated to start moving in sometime in winter/spring 2024.

An in-person dialogue session is also scheduled for January 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott.