BC Housing will be launching community engagement in Quesnel as it seeks to move shelter and transitional spaces off Carson Avenue and expand supportive housing units in the community at the Ramada Inn.
Quesnel city council provided the first reading and set a public hearing date of 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13. to amend zoning to allow the use of supportive housing and emergency shelter at 383 St. Laurent Avenue, after mayor Bob Simpson took the opportunity to provide clarity to the many people in the gallery and removed a disgruntled spectator.
“I want to be very clear that tonight is not the public hearing,” Simpson said at the Aug. 16 council meeting.
“You do have the opportunity to come with gallery questions at the end of the meeting, and ask questions regarding the process, but not regarding the actual proposal because you’ll see in the report all the opportunities that the public will have to engage directly with the proponent.”
While BC Housing may be a function of the provincial government, Simpson said as far as any community is concerned, they are a developer who has a right to propose the development of public or private lands to local governments.
“Contrary to some of the rumours that are out there, this council has made no decision,” Simpson continued. “First reading simply enables it to be tabled and to be discussed. If we don’t do the first reading, if we say to a proponent go out and just talk to the community, then we don’t actually cause the proponent or the developer to formalize their submission in a way that we can all be accountable to. “
In a report shared by Tanya Turner, the city’s director of development services, BC Housing advised it was seeking provincial funding for the acquisition and renovation of hotels to provide permanent housing for vulnerable persons temporarily housed as part of B.C.’s Covid response.
Turner noted BC Housing references the recently completed homelessness count and the wait list for supportive housing as justifications for directing this funding, which must be used by March 31, 2023, to Quesnel.
The proposal would replace the Emergency Covid Response Shelter currently offered at the Grace Inn and relocate shelter housing at Seasons House, which the Quesnel Shelter and Support Society has noted does not meet the current level of need for the number of people needing access to shelter and supportive housing in the community.
The Ramada Inn is approximately three times the size of Seasons House, according to Turner, and would provide 45 motel room units and common spaces as well as landscaping and fencing.
If approved, zoning for the use of supportive housing and emergency shelter would be removed at the current site, 146 Carson Avenue.
Simpson said a path forward would not be officially determined by council until second and third readings, before which the public consultation process has concluded and a public hearing at council chambers occurred.
“This is the very issue—social housing, supportive housing, mental health and addictions— that I would say is keeping pretty much every mayor and every council up at night because it is a national issue. It is an issue in every community, and it is a very complicated one that has multiple traps for councils,” Simpson said, noting of encampments along Quesnel’s Riverfront Trail.
Bids by the City of Prince George to clear a homeless encampment were shut down, with a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruling earlier this year that the city “inflicted serious harm on vulnerable people” when it removed shelters from an encampment.
According to Simpson, courts are ruling against local governments and basing their decisions on the adequacy of housing and the sufficiency of supply.
“If we as a community want to be able to deal with what we’re seeing with these encampments showing up in our community, we have to show due diligence in every respect on every investment offered to us by BC Housing,” he said.
“So if this council decides tonight, which is its right, to not take this to first reading, to not engage the public in a dialogue around the complexity of this issue, we weaken our ability as a council to deal with what we’re seeing on the streets.”
Tony Goulet was the only member of council to vote against the reading as he said he had wanted more information on the four other potential sites evaluated by BC Housing, but turned down due to issues such as not being available to purchase, inadequate capacity, and layout, and lack of proximity to community transport.
The community engagement period will run until Monday, Aug. 29, with stakeholder meetings and online feedback surveys. Community pop-ups in which the public is invited to ask questions and also provide feedback will take place at Spirit Square from 1-3 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, and 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24.
BC Housing is expected to present the results of its consultation activities to council by Sept. 6.
Simpson reminded the gallery to remain quiet after applause briefly erupted, when councillor Ron Paull proclaimed he would be in favour of demanding the consultation process be extended into early September.
“Council can determine the sufficiency of the public consultation at the time of the public hearing and require the proponent to go back out again,” Simpson said. “We’ve done that in the past.”
More information on the proposal is available at https://letstalkhousingbc.ca/quesnel-st-laurent .
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