Housing approved

This 50-unit, so-called supportive housing projects, designed for those with addictions and a history of homelessness, was approved Monday by Kelowna city council for a Rutland neighborhood.

Rutland is getting another supportive housing complex for homeless people and those battling addictions.

Kelowna city council voted 6-3 on Monday to issue a development permit for the four-storey, 52-unit complex at the north-east corner of Macintosh Road and Asher Road.

"The exterior of the building is quite  pleasing," Coun. Gail Given said. "I think it's a fully supportable project."

It will be funded by BC Housing as part of the NDP government's effort to build supportive housing projects around the province, and operated by the John Howard Society. People eventually selected to live there will be able to continue to use drugs and alcohol, and they will be under no obligate to engage in treatment programs.

As the property is already zoned to support the size of the project, and no building variances were being sought, there was no opportunity for the public to address council on the matter at Monday's meeting.

That  made the situation different from recent events surrounding another supportive housing complex, also in Rutland, that generated considerable community opposition.

After 12,000 people signed petitions against the proposal, citing concerns such as the potential for increased drug use and crime in the area, city council last month convinced BC Housing to change that project's operating model. It will essentially be a 'dry' facility, with those who'll eventually live there pledging to abstain from illegal drug as part of their recovery and continued tenancy.

But the project approved Monday is a 'wet' building, the model currently favoured by BC Housing and health providers, as part of a strategy that aims to provide housing first, in the hope that will eventually persuade people to try addressing whatever problems they have.

Since city councillors were only being asked to comment on the building's design, normal procedure discourages them from asking questions about how the supportive housing complex will be operated.

Still, councillors Charlie Hodge and Brad Sieben did bring up some operating issues.

Hodge asked how many staff BC Housing would have at the site, and Sieben wondered about the kind of public input BC Housing received when it hosted an information meeting on the project last January.

Shafin Damani of BC Housing said about 200 people attended the open house. Many praised the look of the building, he said, but a few tweaks were nevertheless made to improve its design based on the feedback.

Dawn Himer of the John Howard Society said there would always be at least two staffers on site at the new building around the clock, and they would be supplemented with caseworkers and other support personnel on weekdays.

"During the weekdays, there's quite a broader number of people available," Himer said. "We adjust staff according to peak times. We know there's particular days when we would have additional staff on."

As he has with other supportive housing projects that came before council, Sieben said it was "absolutely incumbent" on BC Housing and the John Howard Society to ensure the building integrates well into the neighbourhood, and doesn't present problems for area residents.

No other councillors commented on the building's operating model, and Mayor Basran signalled his discomfort with the line of questioning pursued by Sieben and Hodge.

"We're sort of veering out of development permit questions at this particular moment," Basran said.

Although councillors Mohini Singh and Maxine DeHart did not ask any questions or make any comments about the supportive housing project's operating model, they nevertheless voted against issuing the development permit. So did Hodge.

But the rest of council - Basran, Given, Sieben, and councillors Luke Stack, Loyal Wooldridge, and Ryan Donn - voted in favour.