By Licia Corbella, Calgary Herald June 13, 2012
Dale Joseph in his suite in an apartment building owned by the Drop-In Centre in the Bridgeland neighbourhood in Calgary, June 12, 2012.
 

Dale Joseph in his suite in an apartment building owned by the Drop-In Centre in the Bridgeland neighbourhood in Calgary, June 12, 2012.

Photograph by: Grant Black , Calgary Herald

Any time the words “lowcost” or “social” precede the word “housing,” controversy erupts. It is as predictable as the sunrise.

So, it’s not the least bit surprising that Greenview residents are expressing their outrage over the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre’s plan to turn the rather rundown Quality Hotel, located at the busy corner of Edmonton Trail and McKnight Boulevard N.E., into low-cost housing for the working poor.

“Our housing values will plummet,” residents argue. “Our children will not be safe,” say others.

Similar comments were uttered and published back in 2004 when the Drop-In Centre purchased a 50-unit building at 634 2nd Ave. N.E. to turn into housing for vulnerable seniors.

But what the residents who live near Bridgeland Manor have since found out is that these formerly homeless tenants have turned out to be better neighbours than the ones who lived there before.

Anna Priolo has lived just a stone’s throw east of the building in her tidy duplex for 40 years.

“The building is much nicer now than it was before – much nicer,” exclaims the 83-year-old “Nonna” to 13 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren.

“It was ugly before, run down and dirty,” Priolo adds, as she tends to her pansies in several planters by her front door.

“Now look. It’s clean and the people are very nice and quiet. I have never had any problems with anyone in that building since (the Drop-In) took over. Before yes, but not now. People shouldn’t worry. We once worried about this, but we are all glad now that they are here.”

It’s a comforting endorsement to be sure.

Dawn von Arnim, who rents the house directly across the street from Bridgeland Manor, says she wishes all of her neighbours were as good as the ones who live in the spruced-up building.

“I have more problems with the people who live in this building here,” she says, pointing to the three-storey apartment building next door. “I wish the Drop-In Centre would buy this building, too,” says the receptionist and part-time musician.

“There’s a really good vibe here in this neighbourhood,” she adds. “People at Bridgeland Manor sit on their balconies and say ‘hello’ or they wave. It’s a little oasis,” says von Arnim with a smile.

Roger Gagne says he was one of the neighbours who was once upset at the news the Drop-In purchased Bridgeland Manor. It’s ironic to be sure, since Gagne has worked at the Drop-In Centre – Canada’s largest homeless shelter – for the past 10 years as an adult care worker.

“I bought into this building,” he says of the building directly west of Bridgeland Manor, “just a few months before the DI bought the building next door in the fall of 2004.

“There haven’t been any problems by the subsidized renters or the people who pay market rent in the building,” he says.

“It hasn’t hurt my property value either,” Gagne adds. “The city appraised my condo last year for one-and-a-half times what I bought it for. Frankly, the Drop-In made the building look dramatically better than it did before.”

Where once the balconies had ratty-looking cedar slats, now they have aluminum and glass. The lawn and gardens are better cared for, too, and the entrance to the building looks upscale, rather than low brow.

Chatting to several other neighbours of the once-reviled building, I found there wasn’t one who had any concerns.

Dale Joseph, who lives in a onebedroom apartment on the building’s third and top floor, points to a large glass cage in his tidy but tiny apartment and introduces its resident. “That’s Patches,” he says of his long-haired guinea pig who is munching on some fresh parsley.

“This is the nicest home I’ve ever had,” adds Joseph, 52, of his 503-square-foot refuge.

“Ever since I was 20 I’ve never had my own place. I’ve lived in rooming houses or had roommates and as a result I was never able to really accumulate anything.”

Joseph steps onto his balcony with its two chairs and a table. “I can see the fireworks during Stampede over there,” he adds pointing over a stand of trees. “I can only see the top of the fireworks display, but it’s really beautiful anyway.”

His humility and gratitude for his little place is humbling and moving. He has taken up crossstitching as a pastime, but it’s difficult with his arthritis and Buerger’s disease, a rare ailment in which blood vessels of the hands and feet become blocked, and resulted in the amputation of much of his left index finger.

Once an award-winning employee with two large retailers, Joseph is now living on AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) which pays just $1,588 per month.

“I’d never be able to afford this place if I paid full market rent,” he says.

And market rents are expected to increase as rental vacancies continue to decline in Calgary, according to data made public Tuesday by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

That’s why the Drop-In is committed to providing more lowincome housing for the working poor, says Debbie Newman, the agency’s executive director, of the 117-unit hotel.

“As we’ve proven with Bridgeland Manor and Sundial (a 119-unit apartment building on 6th Ave. S.W.), we will help to beautify and improve the neighbourhood,” adds Newman, who is inviting all community members to attend an open house today at 7 p.m., 4804 Edmonton Tr. N.E. to learn more about the Drop-In’s plans.

Joseph says he does what he can to be a good neighbour. “I pick up trash outside, I help keep the grounds nice and I’m always respectful and polite,” says Joseph, who wound up living at the Drop-In after suffering from a heart ailment and spending some time in hospital. That led to him losing his rented room, all his possessions and his job.

“The Drop-In helped me a lot. I don’t know what I would have done without them. On June 30th I’ll have lived here two years and I’m so happy.”

Down in the common room on the first floor, Joseph helps himself to a muffin and some coffee and is asked by resident Beda Luciw, 59, if he can come and fix her computer.

Joseph nods and grins. He’s good at taking discarded computers and making them workable.

Sharon Milgate, supported living services co-ordinator at Bridgeland Manor, looks on and smiles. “We have built a beautiful community here and we will do that again at the Quality Hotel.

You’ll see,” she says.

Meanwhile, Melanie Duggan is standing by her minivan across the street from Bridgeland Manor waiting for her sixyearold daughter to be released from classes at St. Angela School.

“Initially my husband and I were a bit concerned that this was a building with formerly homeless people,” she admits.

“But not anymore. There haven’t been any issues and as you can see, it’s the nicest building on the street.”

Licia Corbella is a columnist and the editorial page editor. lcorbella@calgaryherald.com

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