The Immigrant Services Society of B.C. says it was promised $5-million by the province for its new refugee and immigrant welcome centre – but has received only $1-million.
Welcome House is scheduled to open next year and is billed as the first facility of its kind in the world. It will offer up to 130 beds for newcomers, as well as a medical centre, youth drop-in space and free law clinic. Several non-profits will move into the building, with the goal of meeting most of the needs of new refugees and immigrants in one location.
However, the Immigrant Services Society, which will operate the building, says in a letter to Premier Christy Clark that the province has backtracked on its financial commitment. The letter, signed by society president Manchan Sonachansingh, says the society worked closely with senior B.C. Housing officials in the planning stage and did not anticipate a funding dispute.
"At the beginning, we were encouraged not to undertake a capital campaign but move forward with our project made possible with a promised $5-million capital contribution towards the housing component," the letter says.
"After several years of negotiating on the basis of that original promise, we ended up with a $1-million contribution and were forced to make some significant redesigns to the facility."
The letter, sent last week, says the society currently has an $8-million capital shortfall and asks the province to consider contributing the additional $4-million "that was originally promised." The 57,000-square-foot building has a cost of $24.5-million.
Chris Friesen, the society's director of settlement services, said in an interview Wednesday it had hoped to have about 80 more beds in the facility. He said the $5-million was promised in 2007 and the facility was not told it would be receiving $1-million until March, 2014.
"We did not request $5-million, they had put that on the table as part of a contribution towards both the transitional and second-stage housing. When we received the news that we were only going to receive $1-million, I mean, the board was not particularly pleased, let's put it that way," he said.
Mr. Friesen said the board made the decision to continue construction, but the funding dispute has not been resolved.
A spokesperson for Ms. Clark referred comment to B.C. Housing, a Crown corporation.
B.C. Housing, in a statement, said a $5-million contribution "was notionally allocated to the project, subject to the society meeting specified timelines and requirements." It said the window to allocate money from a provincial and federal economic stimulus fund closed in 2012, before the society could meet the requirements. Mr. Friesen said the society had not been informed of the deadline.
B.C. Housing also said it has provided $630,000 in project development funding, and $8.6-million in interim construction financing. However, Mr. Friesen said the society must pay that money back.
Mr. Friesen said the society will be left with the $8-million shortfall, unless there is a significant contribution or donation.
"To the public, as a charity we would graciously receive donations toward the capital of the project. The more we can bring down the mortgage, the more direct service we can provide for refugees and new immigrants," he said.
Earlier this month, Ms. Clark announced a $1-million fund to assist Syrian refugees who settle in this province. She said the money would be used to help "fill the gaps" in refugee services and to help potential sponsors navigate the application process.