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Four-year fundraising goal for low-income housing renovations nears completion

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
October 6th, 2017

There is very little room left in the Room to Live campaign to raise money to renovate 45 units in one of the city’s only low-income housing blocks in the downtown.

It is one of the more heart-warming stories of the last few years, with only seven per cent ($45,000) of the total remaining to be raised out of the $690,000 that Nelson CARES Society elected to fundraise in order to fulfill their portion of the multi-million dollar low-income housing renovation project.

Although less than one month is left to secure the funds — with a $15,000 city contribution and a Nov. 3 fundraiser still to come — organizers of the campaign were confident the final amount would be achieved as testament to the value of the project to Nelsonites.

“What we realized is that the community really understands the importance of this building, not only as a heritage structure on a vital streetscape, but also as an important building that helps play a role in helping individuals to stabilize their lives,” said Ron Little, chair of the board of Nelson CARES.

Nelson CARES has owned the Ward Street building since 2002. It receives no external operational funding to function, but the ground-level commercial units subsidize the upper level, low-income units.

Where that model really fell apart was the lack of long-term capital maintenance, said Little. In 2012 an analysis was done and a number of things were pointed out as shortcomings, including a poor fire suppression system, the state of the bricks in the structure, and the condition overall of the rooms.

However, Nelson CARES could only access $2.2 million in funding — from government and corporate donations — of the $2.9 million needed to pull off the required renovation.

“We’ve never done a campaign like this and we were incredibly nervous, but right away we had support … and made this seem possible,” said Nelson CARES executive director Jenny Robinson.

The community has responded over the last four years, with 180 business donors ($144,000), regional district and city contributions of $83,000, eight fundraising events which have brought in $120,000 and 350 individuals in the community that have contributed $298,000.

“That was the big number for us,” said Robinson about the individual contributions. “It really shared with us this burden of affordability and providing safe affordable housing for the community.”

Already the project has renovated 26 rooms of the 105-year-old building, with only 19 remaining — at a cost of about $15,000 per unit.

It is home to people living in poverty and those who have escaped homelessness, noted the Nelson CARES campaign director, Lisa McGavey.

“This is about the lives that are really going to be changed by providing a clean, safe affordable place to live,” she said. “It really does make a difference in the lives of people who have been marginalized and are living in poverty and are really struggling.”

The public phase of the campaign will wrap up on Nov. 3 with a performance by the Kootenay Divas at the Capitol Theatre, although the ‘dollar-for-dollar’ matching grant fundraising initiative will continue through to Dec. 31.

City steps up again

Last month the city approved a contribution to the campaign with funds to match those being raised by the community, up to and including Dec. 31 from its Affordable Housing Fund to a maximum value of $15,000.

At the July 25 Nelson Housing Committee (NHC) meeting Nelson CARES Society asked the city for money — up to $15,000 as a matching grant donor towards the 2017 Room to Live Campaign.

That request and motion passed by the NHC at a special meeting held on August 29, but it required council to decide upon the request for it to be realized.

This is the second time the city has supported the project. An amount of $15,000 was granted by council to the 2014 Room to Live Campaign from the Affordable Housing Fund — paid in early 2015.

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