A packed gallery applauded Coun. Charlie Hodge as he brought forward a motion to reconsider the rezoning for a BC Housing project slated for McCurdy Road during a special council meeting held on Wednesday evening. But, B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson has changed the model of the project to facilitate the public’s concerns.
“I believe in this project and I want to see this facility work and I do value, to a great degree, the need of BC Housing,” Coun. Hodge said, noting his concerns were stemmed from the size of the 49-unit building, the limited number of staff and the general location of the site.
His motion was defeated with only his vote in favour of the reconsideration. But the housing project will change from a second-stage housing, or “wet” facility, to a facility that will not tolerate the use of illegal drugs onsite, according to the mayor’s statements that preceded the motion for reconsideration.
Mayor Colin Basran started the meeting with comments from B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinsons after an ongoing conversation between the two levels of government.
Mayor Basran, on behalf of the minister, informed the nearly 100 residents from Rutland and surrounding communities in the gallery that the supportive housing project on McCurdy Road would have no overdose-prevention site located onsite, nor would there be any use of illegal drugs.
“People need a safe roof over their heads to move forward in their lives,” Basran said.
Basran noted the minister said security and additional staff would be on site for the first six months when the facility opens to ensure the operation runs smoothly and incorporates into the community.
The housing project, which caters to youth between the ages of 19-24, will provide housing for those who need it most. At this time, the mayor said, 500 people in Kelowna are on a waitlist to access housing such as this.
The people who will reside in the McCurdy house will be further along in their journey to recovery, Basran said. These people will have experienced homelessness or may be at risk of homelessness, but they will have identified their need and desire for support in their recovery, he added.
This compromise had some members of the public calling out to councillors during the meeting, and shaking their heads “no,” but at the end of the day, this deal brings the project back to its first version brought forward by the original applicant, Freedom’s Door.
In 2017, Freedom’s Door applied to buildout a home for graduates of an abstinence program, but the organization failed to raise the appropriate funds and the project was taken over by BC Housing.
“I’m relieved,” Rutland resident Chrissy Lwowski said following the meeting. “I think it’s a fantastic compromise. At the end of the day we have a pretty significant homeless problem in our community and this will be able to address those and also address the concerns that Rutland residents had.”
“At the end of the day it’s going to come down to how it’s managed, but I’m really happy about the outcome.”
But that is not the opinion all residents of the affected neighbourhood hold.
Audra Boudreau—the organizer of a petition against supportive housing model pitched for the neighbourhood, collected more than 14,000 signatures, with approximately 13,000 of those coming from Kelowna—said the problems are not in the project, but out in the neighbourhood.
“There’s no plan here,” she said. “There’s really nothing that different here other than a nurse attendant, which we don’t know is that 8-4 p.m. seven days a week, or is that 24-7, we don’t know that.”
Boudreau said she believes the facility will ruin the neighbourhood.
“Absolutely, I have no reservations about that,” she said. “None at all.”
“I don’t think that’s a concern for (council),” she added. “I think what is concerning for them is the optic of having cleaned up downtown areas.”
If the council had gone through with Coun. Hodge’s motion, BC Housing could have still built out the project, Coun. Gail Given clarified during her final statements. However, if the project had gone ahead in that situation, council would be dealing with a different kind of beast: a non-conforming building. And that would lead to a potential legal battle.
Lwowski said instead of spending taxpayer dollars in court, she would rather she and her Rutland neighbours continue their advocacy, but instead redirect their focus to adding in support services.
“These are humans and they need help,” said Lwowski, who has spent weeks educating herself and meeting with all levels of government and taking tours of supportive housing facilities. “Our energy is so much better spent advocating for the supports that are required so the people can get the help that they need when they want it.”
“We are dealing with a countrywide epidemic that needs to be addressed.”