View from City Hall: Housing is the issue at hand

Kamloops, we’ve got a housing problem.

Nearly half the city’s renters spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.

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In 2011, 695 people bought homes for under $240,000. This year, just over 100 are less than $275,000. There’s a one per cent vacancy rate. Even with the means, people can’t find places. Bylaws receives numerous calls about those living on the streets.

The problem there?

Emergency shelter beds are intended to be just that — for emergencies. Give folks a few nights in a shelter, then refer them to second-stage housing — longer-term homes that give them a chance to get back on their feet.

Right now, there’s not enough second-stage housing available, so people are cycling through the system and back to the streets.

Housing is not under the mandate of municipal government but community safety, economic development and quality of life are. Improving the situation is in cities’ best interests. Fewer people living rough offers increased safety — not only for those with homes, but for everyone. It improves business, economic investment and tourism.

The city’s vision is for housing to be available and affordable to everyone. That means options for students, first-time home-buyers, young families and seniors.

The city doesn’t operate housing, but it works as a steward, facilitator, investor and communicator to increase the supply.

A few recent examples:

  • The city purchased six parcels of land in the 500-block of St. Paul so the John Howard Society can build and operate 52 units of housing for low- to middle-income singles and families.
  • The city has sold part of Spirit Square to Arpa Investments, which is building 33 market units and 43 affordable-housing units owned and operated by ASK Wellness.
  • This past April, council approved a rezoning for 16 units of housing in Brocklehurst for Indigenous, Metis and Inuit youth who’ve aged out of care, and 15 for elders. Operated by Lii Michif Otipemisiwak, units are expected to rent from $600 to $750 per month.
  • Last fall, mayor and council approved 100 new supported housing units through the Province’s new Rapid Response to Homelessness Initiative (RRHI) — part of BC Housing’s commitment to build over 2,000 modular supportive housing units across the province for those who are homeless or at risk. Locations at 259 West Victoria St. and 317/323 Tranquille were announced this past January. The projects will be run by local non-profit partners CMHA Kamloops and ASK Wellness, respectively, and local company Horizon North will build. Unfortunately, there’s been a delay in those projects for reasons beyond our control, but they will happen.

In light of the RRHI delays, my colleagues and I are well aware that more emergency shelter beds are needed to bridge the gap.

This is a major priority, and we need to do things right.

We’re learning that putting 50 to 100 people on mats under one roof is not best practice — especially when a percentage of individuals are in severe mental health distress or substance use.

Having a larger number of shelters and housing fewer people per shelter is more sustainable. Finding the right location is not as easy as it sounds. Shelters need to be in places where folks can easily catch transit and access services.

Zoning comes into play, and even those who agree housing is needed may change their tune when it’s their own neighbourhood.

But let’s remember that anyone can find themselves without a home: youth who’ve aged out of foster care, seniors and people with disabilities. One swift turn of the wheel of fortune brings the loss of a spouse, job, or health.

Without friends and family, I could easily be one of those people.

Got a picture in your head of “the homeless?” Consider now a single parent who can’t work due to crippling anxiety, a student who’s been couch-surfing for months, and a senior whose monthly pension doesn’t go far enough.

Only then will “the homeless” become living, breathing human beings.

So, yes, Kamloops. We have a problem. But there’s also a will to fix it — and with that and strong partnerships, there’s a way.

Kathy Sinclair is a member of Kamloops city council.

© 2018 Kamloops This Week

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