The regional district board has opted not to hold a fall referendum about the possibility of establishing a local affordable housing service.
The Comox Valley Housing Task Force — whose mandate is to build community capacity to address housing and homelessness — had proposed the service. The decision could mean the demise of the organization which hosted the Building Housing Solutions Together event this year. “What a sad day for the Comox Valley,” task force chair Ronna-Rae Leonard said following Tuesday’s decision at committee of the whole. “It was such a unique opportunity to let the people have their say in a referendum.”
The task force — which includes Area B director Jim Gillis and Comox director Tom Grant — had hoped to create a local government non-profit housing society to help expand the Valley’s affordable housing base. It would also have provided funds to non-profits to create new, non-market housing, which includes emergency shelters and transitional housing. Affordable housing is at or below a low-income cutoff.
The budget for the service allotted $150,000 in administrative expenses, including a $93,900 salary to a housing planner. The estimated expenses did not sit well with certain board members. Courtenay director Manno Theos took issue with half the budget funding administrative costs. “I don’t see money going to the solutions,” said Theos, who feels constituents want to see people housed. “They are going to go through the roof with this. This is nothing but failure. This can’t work.”
Leonard recognizes the budget looks top-heavy in terms of administration but said it is based on maximum amounts. While she appreciates issues with budgeting, she said partnership dollars would lead to solutions.
Gillis liked the idea because it would have served as a backbone for many non-profits that are hurting. Revenue, he added, is needed to provide that backbone. “Do we need to be that specific about how the money is spent?” Gillis said. “If we can help those in need, it will make us a much better society…This is the start of something.” His motion for a Nov. 15 referendum was supported only by Comox director Patti Fletcher.
Grant said the budget would be a “referendum killer.” He suggested the question could focus on the function to create a local government non-profit, but district staff note the difficulty of framing questions within task force parameters.
While he understands where Gillis is coming from, Courtenay director Bill Anglin is concerned if the district is spending more on administration than operation. He would prefer to see the bulk of money funding solutions, not administrative costs. “I don’t think it’s an effective use of taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Courtenay director Starr Winchester concurs it would be wrong to “further burden our taxpayers” to take on something else in a November referendum. She feels the focus — and money — should be spent on the supportive housing complex proposed at Braidwood Avenue in Courtenay.
Besides the Braidwood proposal, Leonard says other initiatives are needed to address homelessness. The Transition Society, for instance, is looking for space to house women fleeing violence. “We have a lot of need that’s not addressed,” Leonard said.