The Cowichan Neighbourhood House in Chemainus is looking for a permanent home.
Speaking on behalf of the Cowichan Neighbourhood House Association, Arlene Robinson told North Cowichan’s council at its meeting on Nov. 4 that the lease on its current location at 9806 Willow St. expires at the end of December.
She said the CNH — a volunteer-run resource and youth centre that provides educational and recreational activities for families, youth, and individuals, as well as resources to those in need — needs help from the municipality to set firmer roots in the community.
Robinson said one option is to buy the building the CNH currently occupies, which would cost approximately $410,000.
She said some of the funding for the purchase could come from grants from such organizations as the BC Association of Neighbourhood Houses and BC Gaming which require matching funds from community donations and fundraising. “Although we hope to raise more, we are only confident that we can raise about $100,000, so we would need a mortgage for the rest,” Robinson said.
“But we could only do a mortgage with the support of North Cowichan. We could purchase the building with an open mortgage that allows us to pay it off at any time. However, the lending institute would need financial assurance, which is why we would need your support by being a guarantor.”
Robinson said a second option would be for the municipality to purchase the building and lease it back to the CNH.
In 1997, the CNH moved into the old Chemainus Fire Hall, which was owned by the municipality, and the association rented it for $1 a month.
After the old fire hall was slated for demolition for the new library, the CNH moved into its current location on Willow Street and put in about $50,000 of renovations.
In 2017, North Cowichan accepted a joint expression of interest by Harvest House Food Bank and the CNH to occupy the ground floor of the new affordable housing building to be constructed on the site of the old Fire Hall.
But in 2019, the CNH was informed by the Community Land Trust Foundation of BC, which is building the affordable housing project, that the public space would no longer be provided.
Currently, the CNH receives an annual grant of $30,000 from North Cowichan, which covers most of its rental costs.
Robinson told council that once the lease expires at the end of December, the building will be going up for sale, so decisions will have to be made soon.
“In short, we are asking North Cowichan to look into either acting as guarantor of the mortgage, or consider purchasing the property for us to use, similar to the arrangement at the Old Fire Hall,” she said.
Coun. Kate Marsh asked Robinson if North Cowichan were to purchase the building, would the CNH expect to pay $1 a month in rent?
Robinson said the building requires some extensive and expensive renovations, including a new roof, furnace and air conditioning, and the CNH would be expected to cover those costs.
“The building needs a lot of work, and if we were to pay regular rent, we wouldn’t be able to afford it,” she said.
Mayor Al Siebring told Robinson that council doesn’t make spur-of-the-moment decisions.
“We’ll have to think about it and staff will get back to you when it’s appropriate, but before your lease is up at the end of the year,” he said.