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Penticton councillors vent frustration with B.C. Housing

John Brendan McEown, director of development for BC Housing, faced Penticton City Council at the regular meeting on Aug. 17
August 17, 2021 - 6:00 PM

Penticton City councillors were united in their frustration with B.C. Housing on two separate items during the regular meeting today, Aug. 17.

The meeting began with a presentation by Leah Schulting, the executive director for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s South Okanagan Similkameen chapter. The organization’s headquarters, located at 2852 Skaha Lake Rd., is in jeopardy because the leaseholder – B.C. Housing – is planning to demolish three aging motels to make way for 103 affordable new homes. Last month B.C. Housing informed the organization their lease will expire at the end of April 2022.

“We assumed we would be part of the redevelopment,” CMHA local executive director Leah Schulting told council.

Staff and clients want the CMHA to remain at its current location, Schulting said, and many of those who benefit from their services are vulnerable people. The organization provides services like suicide prevention, mental health workshops and mental health first aid. The clubhouse offers affordable meals and a place where people can gather without judgment.

“It gives them a sense of belonging and makes them feel important and worthy,” she said. “This would be a huge loss if we can’t find a new location for the community at large.… We would like to stay at our current location as we provide support to more than 200 folks who are right in that vicinity.”

READ MORE: B.C. Housing review of supportive housing in Penticton won't stop city legal action

Council felt her frustration.

“B.C. Housing doesn’t see that what they’re doing doesn’t work,” said Mayor John Vassilaki. “If I had any property that wasn’t leased out I would be the first person to step forward and offer you a spot and at a lot less money than what B.C. Housing is charging.”

Coun. Judy Sentes said she is beyond frustrated there isn’t space for CMHA in B.C. Housing’s new plans.

“B.C. Housing doesn’t seem to be aware of what is accomplished through these partnerships,” she said.

“They talk so eloquently about the wraparound service but all our community sees is those services getting taken away,” Coun. Katie Robison said.

Coun. James Miller said he is tired of how B.C. Housing deals with Penticton and finds it offensive.

“This is another example of a quality program, where important people think, ‘well just give the shaft to downtrodden people,’” he said.

Later in the meeting, director of development for B.C. Housing, John Brendan McEown, dialed in by video. Last week, he signed a letter to explain why B.C. Housing would not be accepting the conditions Penticton council wants to place on the development permit for a housing project at 3240 Skaha Lake Road. He said he believes the permit should be about the form and character of the development and concerns of a relevant nature.

“A performance bond is not something I’ve ever seen,” McEown said.

Robinson told McEown she wanted to be clear that the permit has not been denied.

“It’s just on hold to give everyone the opportunity to get ducks in a row,” Robinson said.

Every member of council supports the premise of the project but each struggles to trust B.C. Housing.

"Those recovery beds are critical and crucial and I regret that they are being held hostage while we try and sort this other (issue) out,” Sentes told McEown.

Although the need for recovery beds is very important for a small segment of Penticton, Sentes said the rest of the city’s population is “many times greater,” and the community is holding council accountable to what they see as B.C. Housing not following through on its word. She added that communication with B.C. Housing is one red flag among many.

Coun. Campbell Watt also wants to support the project but said there is an issue with the timing.

“B.C. Housing projects in Penticton are not tied to a 100 per cent success rate,” he said.

Similar to Sentes, Watt said council is trying to be protective of the entire community and not just a small segment.

“We want to support the most vulnerable but we have to protect everybody,” he said.

Coun. Julius Bloomfield compared the city’s relationship with B.C. Housing to that of a private developer that did not fulfil previous agreements.

“We’re not instigating this without reason,” Bloomfield said. “There’s a reason we’re coming back with this.”

McEown was asked if he could advocate for B.C. Housing to accept a performance bond.

“I mean I will take this back. We can propose that option,” he said. “What I can ask in return is that the development move forward.”

READ MORE: Penticton council at odds with B.C. Housing over emergency shelter


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