First it was Kelowna Coun. Luke Stack who took public issue with former mayor Sharon Shepherd over a letter Shepherd wrote to the local chamber of commerce critical of the city and its current response to the issue of homelessness.
Now, current Mayor Colin Basran has weighed in.
And in doing so, Basran took a stinging verbal swipe at the woman he defeated for the mayor’s job in the last municipal election 16 months ago.
Basran spoke out at the end of council’s regular Monday after meeting, saying at first he was simply responding to what he described as comments “being made in general in the community.”
But when pressed following the council meeting, he admitted they were in response to Shepherd’s letter, a story about which appeared in Friday’s Capital News.
While, during the council meeting, Basran listed a number of ways the city is addressing the homelessness issue, after it he admitted he was upset with Shepherd’s claim that the city’s homelessness strategy had ended and the current council and its predecessor had not continued the work her two councils did on the issue.
“If council, under her leadership, had followed her lead than we’d be worse off now,” said Basran, saying Shepherd voted against the proposal to build the Cardington Apartments, a social housing development on St. Paul Street downtown now considered a success in helping house formerly homeless people struggling with substance abuse problems.
Asked if thought such a comment would inflame the apparent disagreement over what is being done to help the homeless, Basran shrugged and responded “so be it.”
Shepherd could not immediately be reached for comment.
Basran said any claim the city is no longer working to deal with the issue of homelessness is “not factual.”
Earlier, in front of his council, he read a list of initiatives the city has undertaken or help deal with homelessness. It included:
• Three social housing projects in the city since the current council took office in December 2014: the completed 50-unit Pleasantvale Housing Society complex in the North End, the 30-unit KARIS Society supportive housing project on the Central Green site and the 86-unit Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society supportive housing building currently under construction at Central Green.
• Plans by the Okanagan Metis and Aboriginal Housing Society to build a 78-unit affordable housing project currently in the works at city hall.
• The city’s plan to hire a social issues co-ordinator.
• Council’s strategic initiatives to invest in a what the mayor called a healthy, safe, active and inclusive community.
• Work on the city’s main goal of its Housing Strategy, updated and endorsed last August, to ensure all Kelowna residents have access to suitable housing.
• Completion of, and work on, 24 of the Housing Strategy’s 25 recommendations.
• Financial incentives for affordable housing through the city’s Housing Opportunities Reserve Fund, the Rental Housing Grant Policy, revitalization tax exemptions and the permissive tax exemption.
Basran said the city has put $2.5 million into the Housing Opportunities Reserve Fund since 2001— a timeline that goes back to before Shepherd was mayor. While $700,000 of that amount came from developers, the rest has been from taxation and redirected city funds. Money from the reserve is used to buy land for affordable housing. Providing the land is the usual way the city participates in social housing projects.
The mayor said city staff are currently looking at both city owned land and opportunities to buy land for “shovel-ready” projects to take advantage of $355 million the province has earmarked for social housing across B.C.
He said to promote affordable housing, the city has added a policy in its Official Community Plan to support families that can’t afford single detached homes, allows a greater mix of housing types such as micro-suites, multiple smaller units on one site, easier processes to allow carriage houses and in-house suites and even housing in industrial areas.
“Council recognizes our ability to control homelessness is limited,” said Basran. “We can create policies that address needs. But funds are not assigned to municipalities from the province or the federal government to fund low cost housing. We see partnerships with business, government and non-profit sectors as critical to a healthy housing supply into the future.”
In all, Kelowna has around 3,000 housing units administered by B.C. Housing, including dozens of homes discretely scattered throughout the city providing supportive and transitional housing for people recovering from personal challenges, added Basran.
“Most people don’t even know they exist,” he said.
According to the mayor the city provides more than $300,000 in rental housing grants annually and more than $100,000 in social development grants to address the root causes of homelessness.
“It’s clear to see a lot is being done here. That’s a fact,” said Basran.