Mayor and council have vetoed plans by BC Housing to build a supportive housing building in Hope.
Councillors voted against bylaw amendments which would allow the housing agency to build 52 units of supportive housing at 650 Old Hope Princeton Way, at a Monday, Nov. 23 meeting. Councillors Bob Erikson, Heather Stewin, Victor Smith and Craig Traun voted in opposition and Scott Medlock voted in support. The decision follows two days of public hearings Nov. 3 and 4 and hundreds of submissions from residents, both in support and opposed to the proposed development.
Councillor Dusty Smith did not vote or partake in the discussion Monday night. In a Nov. 2 meeting, Smith explained that his name had been written on a petition opposing the bylaw amendments.
“My name and signature and address was forged by a different party. I did not sign this petition,” Smith said, adding that due to conflict of interest he would not be partaking in the public hearing process.
Coun. Traun, speaking in opposition to the bylaw amendments, said nearby businesses shouldn’t have to “cope with 52 new neighbours dealing with all different stages of recovery.” He also stood in opposition to it being a low-barrier building.
“One has to hit rock bottom to want to turn their life around. But that won’t happen as long as drugs and alcohol are permitted in the facility,” he said, adding that he had heard this sentiment echoed throughout the community and in the various submissions in the public hearing process.
Councillor Bob Erickson said low-barrier housing would be ‘enabling’ for people who use illicit substances.
“We’re putting them in housing and we’re feeding them and giving them a warm place to stay. But this is really just enabling them to stay in the condition they are in, and I totally oppose that,” he said. “This group of people needs not only housing, it needs medical care, it needs mental health, and it needs drug rehabilitation and this community does not have those facilities.”
All councillors opposed expressed concerns that the community of around 6,000 people does not have enough resources – physical and mental healthcare, policing and other services – to care for potential residents of the supportive housing building.
Councillor Victor Smith compared Hope to Terrace, which he said had 52 units of supportive housing as well as a courthouse, 62 RCMP members and support staff, a 44-bed hospital and another planned, and an under-construction 25-bed mental health facility.
“The size of the 52-units supportive housing bothers me,” he said. “We do need a shelter and supportive housing, absolutely, but I think that the wraparound services don’t provide enough to support 52 units.”
The focus of Coun. Stewin’s comments were around the needs, other than shelter, that the population who would live in supportive housing would require.
“You cannot have a baby in this community, you cannot have complex medical needs and have them met in this community, a senior citizen who is on dialysis and needing assisted living has to leave our community. Because we simply cannot provide everything for everybody,” she said.
The location was another sticking point for the councillors who voted in opposition, with councillor Stewin saying that the proposed development does not support the vision of Hope’s official community plan. Erickson said putting this development on a “very, very rare” piece of commercial real estate and a very desirable location would be a disservice to the community.
The lone vote in support of the bylaw amendments was Scott Medlock, who shortly after the vote challenged his fellow councillors to tell him how they see the problem playing out past the no vote.
“Do you honestly believe that the problem would go away and solve itself? Do you actually think that the decision that you’re making is going to improve the community, in some way? Because that is what we’re here to do, is improve the community,” he said.
While the location, the lack of services, potential costs and the size relative to the population of Hope were concerns Medlock noted, on the side in support were experts, research as well as other communities’ experience with supportive housing.
“[Mayor Henry Braun] spoke about the positive impacts in their community saw from the supportive housing facilities being built,” he said. “Yes, they are a lot different than we are. They have a larger population base, they probably have a lot more services available, but the impact nonetheless was positive.”
And there is a misunderstanding, Medlock said, about who will be a tenant. The average age of tenants at Hope’s emergency shelter is 50, many of whom are not addicted to drugs Medlock said.
“Statistics also show that one of the fastest population groups that are finding themselves on the verge of homelessness are those over 55 years of age, senior citizens,” he said, adding that those who are the hidden homeless are being forgotten about.
While he had several remaining concerns around potential negative impacts, how services would be stepped up and how people who may come to Hope looking for housing would be dealt with, Medlock said he believes the community is better off with the proposed facility.
Mayor Peter Robb opened the discussion Monday by speaking in support of supportive housing and the concept of Housing First, yet not referencing this specific proposed development.
“Shelters and supportive housing are part of the solution,” he said, solutions to people with no fixed address camping in public spaces such as parks. “Community success is more prevalent, when the housing first approach is taken.
“Ignoring the homeless situation will not make it go away. Lack of affordable housing and ongoing health issues are at the root of homelessness, in my opinion. This has been a long, ongoing, contentious issue in our community that needs to be addressed humanely and respectfully.”
As Mayor, Robb would only have a vote on a matter before council if councillors are in a tie.
What happens to the House of Hope?
As a result of the defeated bylaw amendments, Robb said the House of Hope would need to close. The 20-bed emergency shelter at 650 Old Hope Princeton Way is operating under a temporary agreement by council. The bylaw amendments, which were defeated Monday, would have made the shelter permanent under a special shelter and supportive housing zone.
Coun. Stewin asked staff to provide details around the motion that produced this temporary operating permit as she doesn’t recall this going through council. It is Stewin’s second term on council.
As a stopgap measure during the winter, council voted in favour of permitting the shelter to operate until April 1, 2021. Hope and surrounding communities do not have any other emergency shelter capacity.
The land at 650 Old Hope Princeton Way is owned by BC Housing and it is currently unclear what the housing agency plans to do with the land following the defeated amendments.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated incorrect information about the Mayor’s vote on the two bylaw amendments. The mayor does not have a vote unless there is a tie on a council vote.
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