Sharon Shepherd recently wrote a letter to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce stating that since her terms in office, the city has essentially dropped the ball (on homelessness), and she says she hopes that the work done in the past won’t be forgotten.
Sadly, the former mayor seems to have forgotten a few things herself.
The work of securing funding for four projects (Cardington Arms, NOW Canada, Newgate and Willowbridge) was secured, not by Shepherd, but by former mayor Walter Gray during his term in office.
He is the one who took a bold step and responded to a challenge by then premier Gordon Campbell to get serious about addressing homelessness.
Campbell challenged B.C. mayors to provide pre-zoned land at no cost and the province would then bring funds to build and operate new housing-first projects.
Many mayors did not take the challenge but Gray and the City of Kelowna did.
The city dedicated four sites and struck a deal with the province to attract roughly $30 million in investment into Kelowna to help address homelessness.
It was shortly after this he was defeated by Shepherd, and she had the good fortune to be mayor while these four projects were being built. The heavy lifting had been done.
All Shepherd and her council had to do was to stay the course. These projects continue to house people in need today.
I am not saying she did not play a role in addressing the problem – she did; but others before her laid the groundwork for these housing first projects to be built.
This is how city council works – each council builds on the work of earlier councils.
The current council is no different. It was also under Gray’s leadership (Shepherd was a councillor at that time) that the city’s housing opportunities fund was established to encourage new affordable housing projects.
Funds have been used for projects including the New Ki-Low-Na project with 86 new units under construction at Central Green.
The city invested $1 million in land toward this project. Housing Opportunities funds were also used for the Pleasantvale redevelopment, creating much needed renewal for 50 affordable senior housing units in the north end. Okanagan Metis and Aboriginal Housing Society is also finalizing plans to add 78 new homes near Highway 33.
Last November, council approved new rental housing grants to promote six purpose-built housing projects.
These include non-profit housing and market housing.
Some of these are targeted at expanding much-needed student housing.
Each of these housing projects are important.
The city has been, and continues to be, an excellent partner working closely with B.C. Housing to attract provincial funding for much needed city housing projects.
City staff, under the direction of city manager Ron Mattiussi, have been building this strong relationship for the last 10 years.
Expanding this partnership with B.C. Housing and the province has been very productive and helps our city address this ongoing housing challenge.
From my observations, the best results are achieved when B.C. Housing, the city and local agencies work co-operatively to secure the necessary resources to build and operate the facilities our city needs.
As always, the work continues – there remains much to be done.
Coun. Luke Stack, executive director of the Society of Hope