Saturday’s referendum regarding a tax to address homelessness in the Comox Valley passed by less than 200 votes. The regional district posted the official count Monday afternoon as 1,617 residents voting in favour of the tax while 1,433 said no.
The question asked voters if they favour a bylaw to establish a service to provide funds to one or more non-government organizations (NGOs) to deliver services to assist homeless individuals, based on a five-year plan.
The Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness will work with non-profits to develop the plan.
“The coalition is happy with this positive result for the second time,” said group member Helen Boyd, noting a non-binding question at the last civic election had indicated 71 per cent of voters support at least a $5 annual property tax.
“Our five-year plan is already established, and really focuses on providing housing and the necessary supports for people who are homeless. It is not focused on administrators. It is truly providing housing and support services directly to the non-profit agencies that are going to be the leads on the project. So there’s something tangible there that will be presented at the end of the first year.”
One of the coalition’s plans is to develop a support service, multi-purpose room at the Washington Apartments, which BC Housing has purchased. Other first-year goals are to create two new units of transitional housing at Amethyst House — a residential facility for women operated by the Comox Valley Transition Society — and four beds at the Comox Valley Recovery Centre for men.
“The plan is always evolving,” Boyd said. “It’s the whole continuum of housing.”
She notes the coalition will continue to advocate at all levels of government and with other sectors. It also meets with BC Housing, which handles provincial funding.
“The coalition has done an enormous amount of work off the side of our desk,” Boyd said.
“We think we can truly make a difference because many people are on the same page on this. This positive vote is one step that’s going to help us make that difference…This small tax will have a big impact.”
At the tax rate of two cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, the owner of a residential property assessed at $300,000 would pay $6 per year.
The amount collected from commercial properties depends on a tax multiplier set by the provincial government. Funding could be available by March. Participating jurisdictions are Courtenay, Cumberland, Area A (excluding Denman and Hornby Islands), and Areas B and C. Comox, which has established a $30,000/year fund for the function of addressing homelessness, intends to redirect its money to the regional homelessness service.
Official referendum results will be announced by Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 4 p.m. The CVRD board — which needs to adopt the bylaw to implement the tax — will consider the next steps at its Dec. 15 meeting.