Darrell Burnham

Darrell Burnham

New operator for Alouette Heights

Administrator promises changes at Maple Ridge housing facility.

Changes are coming to Alouette Heights, the 45-unit building that opened in 2012 to give people some breathing space before moving on to a place of their own.

Coast Mental Health, a Vancouver non-profit society that runs 40 housing sites across Metro Vancouver, is taking over on March 1.

The Alouette Home Start Society, last fall, told B.C. Housing it would no longer manage the building.

“We’re excited about this,” said Darrell Burnham, chief administrator. “We’re hoping we’ll make a difference.”

Alouette Heights opened on Brown Avenue and 222nd Street as a transitional housing facility, where people entered with a plan of eventually moving into their own place after two years.

As of last year, Alouette Heights had moved 74 people into permanent housing since opening. At that time, 16 of the 45 tenants had been there since the building opened.

Burnham said the goal is to get people into their own place, often with the help of rental supplements, instead of living in the studio suites indefinitely. Usually, each year, between 10 to 20 per cent of residents in Coast Mental Health facilities move on to living independently.

“Our goal is to create movement. Movement is actually encouraging. People see people moving forward in their lives, that’s actually very encouraging.”

Local MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton announced Coast Mental Health as the new operators on Feb. 17 as part of several announcements about housing.

Burnham already has several ideas he’d like to implement.

“We know we have to build trust with the tenants.”

One meeting has already taken place and existing staff will remain in place. Coast Mental Health, though, will be augmenting that with additional hiring.

Burnham wants to start a community advisory committee, composed of neighbours, or Maple Ridge groups or agencies that will help residents progress.

He also wants to get a breakfast program, “just to make sure people start the day well.”

People starve, he says, on minimal income, a portion of which goes to pay their rent.

“It’s a good way to get to know who’s in the building.”

Burnham, who’s been running buildings for 30 years, would also like a community kitchen program, to help people learn good nutrition.

The need for housing is growing across the region and Vancouver itself is becoming unaffordable, making it increasingly difficult to find rental apartments, Burnham added. But, he said, people won’t be sent in from outside the area to fill spaces at Alouette Heights.

“There’s enough folks in Maple Ridge.”

People will be referred to the facility from a variety of agencies in Maple Ridge, he explained.

Tenants who currently live in Alouette Heights are covered by the Residential Tenancy Act and he doesn’t expect that to change for them.

New residents, though, may arrive under different arrangements. There’s no set time for when somebody moves into their own place, but people will be expected to find their own place within two years. Keeping a movement of residents through the building will free up space for more needy people just starting the same journey.

“That’s the intent, is to help people transition.”

A new feature will be using a risk-management program to monitor the building. Security and lighting will be reviewed.

As far as using drugs within the building, Burnham says, “We have behavioural expectations in all our buildings. What they do in their own suite, in a Residential Tenancy Act building, that’s up to them.

“When it comes to tenancy issues and you jeopardize the well-being of another tenant, that’s a big problem for us.”

Residents can sign a crime-free addendum to their tenancy agreement, he added.

Maple Ridge Coun. Gordy Robson was happy with the change, saying he wants it to operate as a transition housing facility, where the maximum stay is two years.

He said he hoped that incoming residents won’t be covered by the Residential Tenancy Act.