Calgary

Once controversial, affordable housing project in old hotel set to open with community support

Centre 4800 was met with fierce opposition when it was first announced, but now the local community association is "cautiously optimistic" and the Drop-In Centre is preparing to welcome clients to its new affordable housing project.

Centre 4800 on Edmonton Trail met with fierce opposition when first announced

Drop-In Centre executive director Sandra Clarkson is looking forward to working with the community, and welcoming clients to Centre 4800. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Seven years after the Drop-In Centre bought an old hotel in northeast Calgary to create affordable housing, the project is nearing completion.

Centre 4800 on Edmonton Trail was met with fierce opposition when it was first announced and was rejected by the Calgary Planning Commission — a decision later overturned by a development appeal board. 

But on Tuesday, as politicians talked up their respective government's contributions to the project, opposition was nowhere to be found. 

"The community association is sort of at a position right now of cautious optimism that this might work well," said Marvin Quashnick with the Thorncliffe-Greenview Community Association, once an opponent of the plans. 

He said the community was never opposed to having affordable housing in the neighbourhood but wanted to ensure it was done well. 

Improved relationship

Quashnick said changes in the leadership of the Drop-In Centre and more transparency were just two of the reasons why the relationship has improved since those early days. 

When the Calgary Subdivision and Appeal Board approved the project, one stipulation was that Centre 4800 create a citizen liaison committee, something welcomed by the community.

This is a view of Centre 4800, formerly a Quality Inn hotel, in June 2017. (Google Street View)

"One of the things that we felt was important right from the beginning — and initially the DI was very reticent to — was having the availability of residents within the facility to be part of that committee. So it's not just concerns of the community versus the agency but the ability of people who live within the facility to also have a voice," said Quashnick. 

Sandra Clarkson, the executive director of the Drop-In Centre, says the relationship with the community has improved. 

"From my experience and my interactions with them, I would say that we have crossed that hump," she said.

"I am looking forward to ensuring that their fears are mitigated and that we continue to work really closely together to provide an abundant and a rich community for everyone."

'Self-determination and choice'

Centre 4800 will provide 79 units, including 33 studios, 39 one-bedroom and seven two-bedroom suites. 

It's meant to pull clients out of the shelter and help them move beyond homelessness. 

"It's about a whole new start and self-determination and choice," said Clarkson.

"I think it's really important to recognize that while living in shelter, a lot of those choices that you make every day are made for you, your self-determination is removed due to operation of the building."

The project received $8.78 million from the federal government as part of its $55-billion National Housing Strategy, and $5.17 million from the province.

Clarkson, however, said the organization is still in need of donations to help fund the project going forward. 

About the Author

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca.

With files from Mike Symington

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