To the editor:
Re: Former mayor critical of city hall apathy, March 11 Kelowna Capital News
Sharon Shepherd recently wrote a letter to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce “that the city had a number of programs aimed at helping the homeless in place during her time in office, using a housing first approach at that time and was successful in getting funding from higher levels of government for four different types of social housing, including Cardington Apartments on St. Paul Street in downtown Kelowna, Willowbridge which is operated by the Canadian mental Health Association, the NOW apartment building in south Pandosy and Rutland’s Newgate apartments run by the john Howard Society.”
She went on to say that since her terms in office, the city has essentially dropped the ball and she says she hopes that the work done in the past won’t be forgotten.
Sadly, the former mayor seems to have forgotten a few things herself. The work of securing the funding for the four projects she mentioned above was secured, not by Sharon Shepherd, but rather by former Mayor Walter Gray during his term in office. He is the one that took a bold step and responded to a challenge by then-premier Gordon Campbell to get serious about addressing the ongoing problem of homelessness.
Then-premier Campbell challenged B.C. mayors to provide pre-zoned land at no cost and the province would then bring funds to build and operate new housing-first projects.
Many mayors did not take the challenge but Mayor Gray and the City of Kelowna did. The city dedicated four sites and struck a deal with the province to attract approximately $30 million in investment into Kelowna to help address homelessness.
It was shortly after this he was defeated by Sharon Shepherd and she had the good fortune to be mayor while these four projects were being built. The heavy lifting had already been done. All Sharon and her council had to do was to stay the course.
These projects continue to house people in need today.
I am not saying Sharon did not play a role in addressing the problem—she did; but others before her laid the groundwork for these housing first projects to be built in the first place. This is how city council works – each council builds on the work of earlier councils. The current council is no different.
It was also under Walter Gray’s leadership (Sharon Shepherd was a council member at that time) that the City Housing Opportunities Fund was established at City Hall to encourage new affordable housing projects. These local funds have been used to promote many new affordable housing projects throughout the city. Funds have been used for projects including the New Ki-Low-Na project with 86 new units under construction at Central Green. The city invested $1 million in land toward this project. Housing Opportunities funds were also used for the Pleasantvale redevelopment, creating much needed renewal for 50 affordable senior housing units in the north end.
The Okanagan Metis and Aboriginal Housing Society is also finalizing plans to add 78 new homes near Highway 33 in Rutland.
In November of 2015 council approved new rental housing grants to promote six purpose-built housing projects. These include
non-profit housing and market housing. Some of these are targeted at expanding much needed student housing. Each of these housing projects are important.
The city has been, and continues to be, an excellent partner working closely with BC Housing to attract provincial funding for much needed city housing projects. City staff, under the direction of city manager Ron Mattiussi, have been building this strong relationship for the last 10 years.
Expanding this partnership with BC Housing and the Province has been very productive and helps our city address this ongoing housing challenge. From my observations, the best results are achieved when BC Housing, the city and local agencies work cooperatively to secure the necessary resources to build and operate the facilities our city needs.
As always, the work continues—there remains much to be done.
Kelowna city councillor,
Society of Hope executive director,