Vernon mayor has both barrels blazing in support of affordable and supportive housing

Mayor's rebuke on housing

Vernon's mayor made his views crystal clear, Monday, when it comes to affordable and supportive housing in the community.

Mayor Victor Cumming took the unusual step of issuing a personal statement on the matter following Monday's council meeting, at which Coun. Scott Anderson walked back from a call for a moratorium on new supportive housing projects until an audit can be done on their effectiveness.

Anderson withdrew a notice of motion, but said he'd be back with a "more focused" motion on the projects' impact on surrounding neighbourhoods.

In his lengthy statement, Cumming offered a scathing rebuke of such a move, and said affordable housing is a pressing issue in Vernon.

He said a recently completed Regional Housing Needs Assessment identified an urgent need to add more affordable housing units in the North Okanagan.

Cumming said "provision of housing for all community members is a key concern for local government" and council’s strategic plan "has specific goals and a commitment to add more affordable housing in Vernon through local and provincial partnerships."

"Through a solution-based, collaborative approach, Vernon has increased its affordable housing inventory by more than 400 units since 2008, with a mix of affordable units, supported housing and permanent shelter beds," said the mayor. "Vernon has also worked with numerous private sector developers to see approximately 570 new rental units enter the market in the same period.

"Currently, another seven affordable housing projects and two supported housing projects (including 24/7 staff support) are in progress, which will add 297 new units to the community. These projects provide essential housing for lower income seniors and families, safe housing for women and children transitioning out of domestic violence situations, affordable housing for adults, and surety of basic shelter for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness."

He noted there are hundreds of applicants on waitlists for affordable housing.

"Accessible, attainable and supported housing solutions in Vernon are only made possible through our collaborative work with BC Housing, which has provided funding to groups such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, Vernon and District Community Land Trust, Vernon Pensioners Accommodation Society, Archway Society for Domestic Peace, Habitat for Humanity, Vernon Native Housing Society, and Turning Points Collaborative Society. These groups manage affordable housing. More than 2,000 Vernon residents benefit from the efforts of these service agencies.

"As Mayor of Vernon, the last thing I want to see is a moratorium on supportive housing projects. At some point, local motels that have been used as shelter accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic response will transition back to tourism. This will force individuals who are without housing back on to the street and into our parks and downtown core."

He said consultation with area residents and businesses near Turning Points Collaborative Society's My Place housing project has revealed the neighbourhood near My Place "improved in the past year," and that the majority of local businesses would "support more supportive housing in the community."

"The facts are clear. We need more affordable and supported housing in Vernon, not less."

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