Penticton planning manager Blake Laven chats with a group about a supportive housing project planned for Winnipeg Street. Steve Kidd/Western News

Emails show B.C. Housing disappointment with Penticton council decision

Stakeholders, B.C. Housing discouraged by council not supporting project proposed on Green Avenue

Disappointed and discouraged.

It was the sentiment B.C. Housing staff relayed to City of Penticton staff upon learning that 52 units of supportive housing that was to be built in the city’s south end (at 179 Green Ave.) was voted down by city council in May.

In emails, obtained by a Freedom of Information request, B.C. Housing’s Maggie Chinnery provided a quick summary as to why the project was turned down. In it she said that Penticton CAO Peter Weeber “thinks it important for council to understand that this project is necessary as not having it will make things get worse.”

Related: Penticton council sends housing project back to the drawing board

“He mentioned that this is a political year for the council and they will need good reason to support zoning amendment. Currently he thinks that is about 50/50 in favour/opposed,” Chinnery wrote in her email.

City council had sent B.C. Housing and city staff back to the drawing board, voting against a zoning amendment that would change an empty lot zoned for duplexes to fit a modular project with supported housing. Since that meeting a new location has been decided on, with the province purchasing properties at 594 and 600 Winnipeg St.

Related: New location for supportive housing in Penticton

The supporting housing, to be built by Penticton’s Metric Modular, is expected to be complete by spring 2019. The initial project, on Green Avenue, according to B.C. Housing, was to be completed before winter if council had approved it. At the time, B.C. Housing was concerned that council’s decision would leave those without homes out in the cold over the winter. 100 Homes Penticton had counted 163 homeless or at risk of homelessness in the city. At the announcement in April of the 52-unit housing, it was stated the construction was anticipated to be complete by December 2018.

Danna Locke, director of regional development for B.C. Housing, said in the correspondence, following council not approving the Green Avenue project, that she was also dismayed by the outcome.

“Quite disappointing as they signed an (memorandum of understanding), were pre-advised of the site and the mayor even attended the announcement with the minister,” she wrote.

Related: New homes to be built in Penticton for those in critical need

Blake Laven, City of Penticton planning manager, stated in the email correspondence that the council meeting did not go as planned.

“For what it is worth, I think everyone who presented did a really good job and am surprised with the decision by council. I know that a lot of work went into the location at 179 Green Ave. and I am very disappointed with the outcome,” he wrote in a an email to B.C. Housing staff and city staff.

In a suggested response that would be given to media about the outcome, Laura Matthews, senior communications specialist for B.C. Housing, suggested that a spokesperson from B.C. Housing would offer: “The decision by council means that the 52 people who could have had a home this winter might continue to be back in shelters.”

Related: Neighbourhood gets chance to quiz supportive housing planners

Of the 23 members of the public that commented during the public hearing in May, 15 were in support and eight in opposition. The biggest concern was that the housing would be too close to the school. Only Coun. Judy Sentes voted in support of the project

Bob Hughes of ASK Wellness, a non-profit housing operator that was to run the housing, sent an email to stakeholders such as the South Okanagan Women In Need Society, South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society, Ooknakane Friendship Centre and service providers stating that he can “only believe that council had already made up their mind prior to the decision made.” He added that it was now in the hands of the city whether there is “sufficient political will to keep this program alive.”

ASK Wellness will be the operator of the housing on Winnipeg Street, which will be staffed 24/7 to provide support services including mental health and addiction recovery programs, life skills training and employment skills programming.

— With documents obtained by Dustin Godfrey/Black Press

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Kristi Patton | Editor


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