More than 100 people turned out for an information meeting in the REC Centre gymnasium last Wednesday about affordable housing that featured presentations from representatives of Canada Mortgage and Housing (CMHC) and the B.C. Housing Management Commission.
Danna Locke, director of regional development for B.C. Housing, Lance Jakubec, affordable housing specialist with CMHC and Christine Mielke, First Nations housing specialist with CMHC, all gave opening presentations before fielding questions from audience members.
Lillooet Mayor Peter Busse got things rolling with introductions and an acknowledgment of the advocacy of local resident and former Mayor Bob Dew on the issue, which drew a round of applause.
“It’s been a work in progress for Coun. Hopfl and myself since before Christmas. What I’d like to recognize is that a shove a shove and a push from Mr. Dew here caused us to get hold of Danna and B.C. Housing and convince her to come in and show us the way,” Busse said.
“You’ll here the mantra from Dana that we have to form partnerships in order to achieve what Coun. Hopfl and the whole council and myself are most concerned with and that is to be able to achieve a level of grant funding… to achieve seniors housing, affordable housing and every other parts of housing that we feel is required here in Lillooet.”
Coun. Laurie Hopfl spoke before turning the mic over to the out-of-town guests, giving an overview of the history and current state of affordable housing in Lillooet, which of three residences combining for a total of 35 suites.
“The criteria for all three is either senior status or people with disabilities.”
Jakubec gave an overview of CMHC, which including the funding programs available and the requirements for participation and also touched on the partnership mantra Busse predicted.
“Affordable housing is a huge topic everywhere,” Jakubec said.
“To make it work, everybody needs to be at the table.”
Mielke talked about how CMHC’s Indigenous on-reserve housing programs help first nations work toward self sufficiency in housing first by listening and identifying people’s needs. Programs to meet those needs include support in building, renovating and administering low-cost housing on reserve as well as skills development initiatives to help first nations people qualify for employment in the construction industry.
Locke outlined a wide array of programs to combat the affordable-housing issues Lillooet and other communities face and said that based on the turnout at the meeting, and the assistance available, she’d be very surprised if some local housing projects do not result.
“In small communities things get done.”
She also did not disappoint with regard to stressing the importance of partnerships.
“Small communities are the bread and butter of our partnerships,” Locke said.
“You have to get a lot of people together to make it work.”
Many people made their way to the mic to question the panel when the initial presentations were complete. Among them was Jill Stainsby who was looking for clarification as to whether ‘accessibility’ in the programs mention included inside the residences rather than just the ability to approach and enter.
Locke replied that B.C. Housing requires a minimum of five per cent of units and all public areas be fully accessible within facilities, giving wider hallways and having showers instead of bathtubs as examples of what that can include. She said it’s her understanding that CMHC (Jakubec had temporarily left the room) requires around 20 per cent accessibility within facilities.
Trevor Chandler asked Locke for an explanation of why one population group appears to be falling through the cracks, while acknowledging there was help in place for elders, women leaving abusive situations, children and others.
“But nothing for disabled and yet the province has not increased the shelter allowance for people with disabilities for at least 15 years,” Chandler said.
“There’s a really big gap. You can’t find housing that can be paid for with a person’s shelter allowance, so why isn’t B.C. Housing in there to fill the gap or at least pressuring the province to do something about it?”
Locke replied that people with disabilities can often be included within some of the other criteria for assistance; a response Chandler later said didn’t really answer the question.
Lillooet Friendship Centre program director Colleen Ledoux received a round of applause describing research done and efforts made by the centre in working for disadvantaged people including on the affordable housing front. She asked Mayor Peter Busse where organizations like the one she works for will fit into any larger effort and stressed again the need for a wide range of groups and individuals to work together.
“One thing I realize is you need partnership, you need support,” Ledoux said.
“We are learning as we go here and one of the reasons the folks up on the stage are here is to give us guidance,” Busse replied.
“Getting all the societies involved is something that Danna has highlighted is necessary for me and for us as a district and council.”
There were a number of other questions and statements before Busse wrapped things up with a few words, and the panelists mingled briefly with attendees before getting back on the road.
“Thank you to all of you who have come out and on behalf of council I do say that this is a first step and we will move forward,” Busse said.