Oak Bay home ready to house refugees, immigrants

Executive director David Lau, of Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, at the Monterey house adjacent to Theatre Lane, where immigrants and refugees can soon live while settling in Canada. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Executive director David Lau, of Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, in an upstairs bedroom of the Monterey house, adjacent to Theatre Lane, where immigrants and refugees can soon live while settling in Canada. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Executive director David Lau, of Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, in an upstairs bedroom of the Monterey house, adjacent to Theatre Lane, where immigrants and refugees can soon live while settling in Canada. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Executive director David Lau, of Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, in the stairwell of the Monterey house where immigrants and refugees can soon live while settling in Canada. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Executive director David Lau, of Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, with volunteers Jeff Richmond of Royal Rooter and Paramjit Bhalla, at the Monterey house where immigrants and refugees can soon live while settling in Canada. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

When David Lau first entered the six-bedroom house on the corner of Monterey Avenue and Theatre Lane he cut out the water damaged plaster hanging from one of the bedroom ceilings himself.

The executive director of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society has experience and passion for renovating old houses and has helped turn two of them in Oak Bay into housing for new Canadians. This week the District of Oak Bay signed a three-year lease on the house at 1538 Monterey Ave. and the house directly behind it at 1532 Hampshire Rd.

“We desperately need housing for refugees in [Greater] Victoria, as we know it’s a competitive market,” Lau said.

The houses are in great shape thanks to a major effort by more than 160 volunteers who donated time, parts and labour from neighbours, electricians, plumbers, contractors, and other businesses across the region.

READ ALSO: Victoria immigrant centre’s refugee housing lands in Oak Bay

VIRCS took over the Hampshire house three years ago and brought it from a tear-down state to a fully renovated home.

“To name the list of sponsors who’ve donated parts, products, labour and more … is difficult,” Lau said. “I’d have to start on one arm to list them all and it would go up and down my legs.”

Oak Bay bought the Hampshire property in 1990. It was considered as a parking lot in 2007 and again in 2012.

A family of five new Canadians has been living there since VIRCS, and company, fixed it in 2018.

“We spent seven months working intensely on Hampshire, as it had been vacant and unheated for many years,” Lau said. “There were holes in the roof and the plaster was in bad shape. The plumbing was shot. The wiring couldn’t pass inspection and water was pooling in the basement.”

Repairs included the installation of a perimeter drain (by Royal Rooter’s Jeff Richmond) to end the condensation in the lower floor.

The family that is in Hampshire will stay awhile longer, Lau said, as they become better integrated into the community.

Monterey was in better shape than Hampshire when VIRCS’ supporters started fixing it this year but neither near livable, Lau said. Monterey now has a hip look to it thanks to bold paint choices, eccentric lighting fixtures and mid-century modern furniture donated by Article furniture out of Vancouver.

Oak Bay bought 1538 Monterey in 2016 for $1.7 million. The site is a double lot.

Lau was able to double the Monterey house kitchen. It was completely gutted and now has stainless steel counters and sinks, two ranges and two fridges, thanks to Harbour Kitchens, Crest Sheet Metal, West Coast Appliances, True Home Plumbing and more.

“I have a retired electrician, still ticketed, replacing all kinds of wiring from different decades,” Lau said.

Ideally, Monterey home will house refugees and immigrants for six to nine months while they get settled and build a community. One or two staff from VIRCS will live in one of the six bedrooms, starting with a couple.

“It just happens the first to put their hands up to live there are a couple,” Lau said. “One was in the hotel industry, the other in architecture who knows old houses.”

The Monterey house will need a rezoning application to permit more than two non-family members. Oak Bay council committed to providing the rezoning for single persons or couples, with a maximum occupancy of eight residents, plus accommodation of a caretaker or an employee.

The entirety of the work on both houses is a testament to the power of community, Lau said. Oak Bay wasn’t looking to build a new house in either location, nor was it an option for VIRCS. But by having more than 160 volunteers come together in different ways on the project, the houses were rebuilt.

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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