Waters: NIMBY alive and well in Kelowna

Support for plan to fight homelessness does not always translate into support for implementation

When the current Kelowna city council was sworn into office, Mayor Colin Basran warned his councillors they would have some tough decisions to make.

He was talking about where to locate future social housing in the city.

With the Kelowna’s Journey Home initiative to address homelessness approved, Basran knew his council would have little choice but to approve plans for the swath of supportive housing projects he knew was coming from B.C. Housing—the very facilities Journey Home called for.

In the last year, the city has seen plenty of those projects spring up in neighbourhoods across Kelowna—and every time, residents of the areas affected turned out in droves to oppose them.

The scenario is playing itself out again with the latest project, one planned for the corner for McCurdy Road in Rutland.

But this time, unlike others, the residents have enlisted the help of their local MLA.

Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal Norm Letnick has written to the housing minister urging her to “pause” the project until B.C. Housing can assure residents there won’t be problems in the neighbourhood.

He says he has heard loud and clear from his constituents they feel they’ve been more than generous in accepting their share of social housing.

That, of course, is a bit of a stretch. Acceptance is not really acceptance if you are opposed in the first place and don’t get your way.

What’s shaping up is a repeat of the scenario played out in other parts of the city such as recently on Agassiz Road, where residents there—mainly seniors—loudly voiced their opposition to plans for a supportive housing project in their neighbourhood.

As was the case with previous proposals, opponents protested prior a public hearing on the project, voiced their opposition and watched as council voted to zone the property to allow the project.

In the case of the McCurdy Road building, however, that will not be the case. The land is already zoned to allow for the use. That happened in 2017 when Freedom’s Door proposed a similar building on the land. The major difference was the housing Freedom’s Door wanted would have provided homes for graduates of its drug and alcohol recovery program—an abstinence-base program.

The current B.C. Housing plan—like others it has built in the city—will be what opponents derisively call a “wet” facility, one that allows drug and alcohol use on site by residents.

Despite the difference, back in 2017, there was plenty of opposition to the Freedom’s Door proposal, just like there is now with the B.C. Housing plan. Two years ago, council approved the rezoning for Freedom’s Door but that project ultimately failed when the province declined to provide a grant because, ironically, Freedom’s Door was an abstinence-based program.

So, B.C. Housing stepped in with its plan.

The concept of providing housing to the homeless is one that, in theory at least, has been embraced by most in the city. But when push comes to shove, the theory is different from practice.

If you ask most in Kelowna if they support the Journey Home initiative, they will say yes. But, there seems to be a caveat—it’s a good plan, just implement it in someone else’s neighbourhood.

As we have seen time and time again in this city, NIMBY—Not In My Backyard—is alive and well.

Alistair Waters is a regional editor with Black Press in Kelowna.

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