Shame on Courtenay city council for the complete lack of a transparent process, which has resulted in unnecessary community division over a supported housing facility proposed for 988 Eighth St. Much of this strife could have been mitigated by an inclusive and respectful community process that would include information on the City’s long-term housing strategy, research on similar projects in other cities and evidence-based solutions. Instead, there was a last-minute announcement that a 46-unit housing project, for individuals who are homeless, was to be built this summer. This resulted in a lining up of two sides presenting their own pitches on critical issues that instead deserve a meaningful dialogue and comprehensive civic planning.
I couldn’t get inside for the first half of the presentations, but during the second half, I heard no one say that they didn’t support a housing project for people who are homeless. Those who voiced concerns about the location of the project were mainly elderly women who live in subsidized, seniors’ housing at Kiwanis Village and several seniors who live in a townhouse complex adjacent. The concerns were twofold: the over-concentration of addiction/social services (in an area with a homeless shelter, a men’s addiction recovery centre, a supported youth housing project and seniors’ housing); the second concern was personal safety and security of elderly residents.
I ticked the “yes” box in favour of supported housing; however, I became more and more troubled through the evening by the complete lack of respect for the elderly women who expressed fear. A number of people, some who represented local social service organizations, rolled their eyes or laughed when elderly women expressed their fears. One presenter described some elders’ concerns as NIMBY issues or classism. The irony was that the majority of people she was dismissing as classist are low-income, elderly women who live in subsidized housing, so indeed class was an issue.
One resident of Kiwanis Village eventually raised an issue key to this discussion and that is gender, a subject that was not addressed in the presentations I heard. The Kiwanis resident made it clear that if residents in the supported housing were to be mostly women, she would feel very differently about her own safety. This fear of male violence cannot be ignored in a neighbourhood where the residents are mainly low-income, elderly women. I truly hope that these residents are provided with more respect in future community meetings.
With so much interest, I trust that the City and others affiliated with this project are planning additional meetings and will develop an effective community development strategy respectful to all. Research is abundant on the failures associated with concentrated low-income and supported housing, which has unfortunately been the pattern in Canada and the U.S. We’ve seen this strategy fail in Vancouver and in other Canadian cities. The most successful public housing strategies are in European cities where scattered housing projects contribute to the health of all residents – most importantly those housed in the supported projects. I look forward to more information about the research that has informed the current proposal and the innovations planned to make this project a success. We all want a success story for this housing project.