Langford, Colwood council members respond to ‘regional’ homeless solution

West Shore municipalities have differing focus than core jurisdictions

A Victoria-driven proposal to end visible homelessness in the region may not be the ultimate solution for all municipalities.

Elected officials from the West Shore are voicing concerns over being potentially included in a plan to levy a $11 per household fee to cover operating costs of new housing units for the region’s chronically homeless. They also indicated that a downtown-focused plan may not address issues prominent in West Shore communities.

Langford Coun. Denise Blackwell, who chairs the city’s planning, zoning and affordable housing committee, hadn’t seen any information on the proposal announced by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps earlier this week, let alone any statistics or figures to support it, other than some councillors’ remarks. “I think it’s unfortunate … they put it out there before it went to the CRD,” she said.

Blackwell also represents Langford as a director on the Capital Regional District and Capital Regional Hospital boards. Langford has its own housing strategy because the West Shore is often faced with different issues than municipalities closer to the core.

“We have an affordable housing program we’ve been running for a number of years where people get to buy a house,” she said. “It’s been quite successful.”

Homelessness is “not something that’s front and centre in Langford,” she added, noting that the City was more focused on addressing the issue of accessibility to affordable housing for its residents.

Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton voiced similar concerns, that housing issues on the West Shore don’t necessarily coincide with those downtown. She also noted that Colwood was not a member of the CRD’s current housing program because of differing objectives. “We weren’t seeing an opportunity.”

She said previous research suggested that Colwood had more pressing issues of children being over represented in the homeless population and has taken a position to target those causes.

“It’s taxpayers’ dollars and they only go so far,” Hamilton said.

Helps, who co-chairs the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, joined Victoria councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday this week in proposing a regional funding plan to eliminate visible homelessness within the Capital Region by 2018. The levy would be added to property owners’ annual Capital Regional Hospital District contribution.

“Housing is not something that municipalities should take on,” Helps said in a news release. “But in the absence of leadership from the federal government, residents of the region can no longer sit by, as people – particularly those with mental health and addictions issues – suffer on our streets. Enough talk. Now is the time for action.”

The Regional Housing First Strategy is looking to build 367 units of new housing with support services. That figure represents the number of chronic shelter users requiring housing estimated by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. The proposal suggests that the Capital Regional Hospital District serves as the lead agency with partnerships with social service providers and local, provincial and federal authorities.

Also included in the proposal was a request to the federal government for a contribution towards the capital costs of building the units, estimated at $50 million, and a suggestion of an annual provincial government contribution of $7.73 million for operating costs of the support services required to help assist in maintaining stable housing. Annual costs, after the deduction of social assistance payments, are estimated at $2.08 million, or the equivalent to $11.18 per household per year if levied regionally.

Victoria council was set to discuss the proposal for the Regional Housing First Strategy on Thursday, after the ***Gazette’s press deadline. If council approved the recommendations the proposal will be forwarded to the chairs of the Capital Regional Hospital District board and the Capital Regional District board.

The City of Victoria has been the centre of controversy in recent months surrounding what is the most appropriate response to homelessness, including options for micro-housing and temporary tenting areas.