Affordable housing is a hot topic in Courtenay, and the three men vying for the mayor’s seat in the Nov. 19 municipal election had a chance to address this issue Monday night.
About 250 people attended the Courtenay all-candidates’ forum at the Florence Filberg Centre featuring mayoral candidates Greg Phelps, Larry Jangula and Bill Bate — along with the 16 men and women running for a seat on council.
Jangula, who has served as a councillor for nine years, is seeking the mayor’s seat for the first time.
“Our city is now facing many important issues that require thorough and careful consideration; those decisions will affect our community and taxpayers for many years to come,” he said. “The city needs civic leaders that are capable of making these challenging decisions in the best interest of all of our community and not just a few.
“This needs leaders who will go the extra mile to understand the issues and the impact of their decisions on our community, all the time making sure that everyone is included in the process. I believe I am one of those leaders that is capable of meeting those challenges.”
Challenger Bate has lived in the Comox Valley for 32 years.
“I’ve witnessed some of the same changes that many of you have,” he said. “The lines between the communities have become so blurred that it’s become difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. We appear to be growing together, but are we really working together for the greater good? Our economic advancement and environmental sustainability depend on our focusing on shared goals and a mutual respect.”
Bate believes the mayor and council and the administration they oversee are supposed to reflect the positive in the city, but too often, there is divisiveness and indecision.
Phelps is seeking a second term as mayor, and he highlighted a number of achievements in the city during his time as mayor — including the widening of Cliffe Avenue and refurbishment of the Native Sons Hall, hiring more police officers, increased support to arts and culture and the Purple Ribbon campaign.
“As we get set to vote on Nov. 19, there’s really only one question: has Courtenay improved in the past three years,” he said. “Absolutely. Let’s keep up the momentum with leadership skills and a philosophy that values diverse opinions and collaboration. I offer progressive leadership that will keep the city moving ahead.”
Affordable housing came up often during the forum, and candidates were asked what they consider to be affordable housing and what would they do to promote affordable housing when a developer brings forward a proposal to the city.
“Affordable housing and where that line exists for all of us is quite different,” said Bate. “What an exact number, an exact line in the sand would be, it’s different to each and every person.”
He believes that to attract people to the area, the City needs to create more incentives where there are additional opportunities.
“To have city-based housing would be an alternative, but, of course, there are a lot of costs associated with that,” he said.
Jangula felt the question should be put to the Valley’s federal and provincial representatives rather than municipal representatives.
He pointed to a housing development in the Dingwall area that was started by a partnership between the federal and provincial governments and is run by the Lions Club in which people’s rent is based on their income as an example of the type of development the city should be encouraging senior governments to do.
“But I think it’s very dangerous to assume that somehow we as municipal government are going to solve people’s homelessness problems,” he said. “It cannot be done under the municipal framework.”
Phelps believes Courtenay council has done a fair bit to address affordable housing, including securing affordable housing contributions from developers and providing land for Habitat for Humanity and bonus density incentives for developers, while the city can provide supportive transitional housing and emergency shelters — “where we fall woefully short.”
In answering the question, Phelps quoted writer and political satirist Stephen Colbert: “If this nation is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then just admit we don’t want to do it.”