British Columbia

Affordable housing proposed for site of historic church

After voting to dissolve its congregation due to an aging and declining membership, the Anglican diocese of B.C. has sold its land to a community organization looking to transform it into an affordable housing complex.

Anglican diocese says other Vancouver Island parishes exploring housing on properties

The St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Ladysmith was built as a school in the 1880s about 40 kilometres north of where it stands now. It was upgraded in 1910. (Marsh Stevens)

After 117 years, the site of a historic Ladysmith church has been sold to a local social services organization proposing a new affordable housing project.

The stained glass windows, chalices, linens and religious relics are gone from the church that once housed the Anglican parish of St John the Evangelist. The church now awaits demolition.

Congregation members held a wake and funeral for the church after voting 81 per cent in favour of disbanding the parish last April amid declining membership, said Logan McMenamie, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia.

"[The congregation] said, 'You know what? With the burden of the building, the maintenance and the numbers of the congregation we don't think we have the capacity to continue,' " he told host of CBC's All Points West, Robyn Burns.

Low vacancy rates

The Ladysmith Resource Centre Association approached the diocese about purchasing the land about seven months ago and finalized a deal at the end of April.

The community organization plans to include up to 40 units of affordable housing, most of which will be for seniors and adults with developmental disabilities.

"We have about 15 people with developmental disabilities in town we think would use it," said Marsh Stevens, president of the resource centre association.

Stevens said renting in Ladysmith is difficult for many because of low vacancy rates and the rising cost of living.

It will be the resource centre association's first affordable housing complex. The organization currently runs the BC Housing emergency weather shelter in town as well as a soup kitchen, food bank and other social programs.

The Anglican Diocese of British Columbia worked with a researcher at Royal Roads University whose years of research examines the viability of re-purposing former church properties into multi-use properties.

Part of larger vision

Based on that research, the diocese says it is moving forward with a plan to examine its Vancouver Island properties to see where other development opportunities might lie.

One of its current projects is a seniors affordable living development in Esquimalt that is partially funded by BC Housing, said Peter Daniel, the asset manager for the diocese.

Another will provide an additional 84 units of affordable housing for seniors and is under construction in Saanich.

"We have 44 properties on Vancouver Island and a lot of land. We're in a fortunate position after 150 years of having no debt," said Daniel.

While some properties will include space for a 'ministry centre' Daniel said the only requirements for residency are age and income.

He hopes the multi-use properties will create a sense of community and reduce social isolation by giving residents a place to come together.

"I have several parishes anxious to start exploring affordable housing and educational opportunities, which we're quite enthusiastic about," said Daniel.

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West