B.C.’s housing minister is making good on her threat to go it alone on social housing in Maple Ridge.
Earlier this month, Selina Robinson slammed the city’s own proposed social housing plan as “unworkable,” and said if the city wouldn’t work with the province, the ministry would “move forward” with building temporary supportive housing on its own.
On Wednesday, Robinson unveiled what that would look like, in the form of a 51-unit supportive housing project for residents of the controversial Anita Place homeless camp on the site of a previously-rejected social housing project at 11749 Burnett St.
In its own social housing plan, Maple Ridge had sought to restrict new supportive housing for the homeless to the site of the city’s one existing temporary modular housing project on Royal Crescent, with seniors’ housing proposed for the Burnett Street site.
In a letter to Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden and council Wednesday, Robinson said she appreciated the city’s attempt to create a housing plan, and applauded proposals for seniors and recovery housing. But she said she had made it clear to the city that there was no space for more housing at the Royal Crescent site.
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“Given this, we will be moving ahead on an expedited basis to build modular supportive housing on the property we own at 11749 Burnett,” Robinson wrote.
“I agree with your council’s assessment that in the longer term this would be an ideal site for seniors’ housing, and so I have asked staff to also work with city staff on planning for an affordable rental building for seniors for this location” at a later date.
Robinson also asked Maple Ridge to work with BC Housing to develop a plan to ensure support for homeless campers are supported until construction begins in April.
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In a statement, the mayor said he was surprised by the announcement.
“I am troubled by this arbitrary decision made without significant dialogue on the City’s Social Housing Plan recommendations,” Morden said.
“Our expectation was that city and provincial staff would work through a process together, gather the facts, overcome obstacles and make recommendations to address the immediate and long term needs in our community.”
Morden has not responded to requests for further comment. Once city councillor reached by Global News said they hadn’t seen the letter and could not speak to it.
The province says construction will take about five months to build, and the project will house all 47 people who have been confirmed by the city as residents of Anita Place.
Lawyers for Pivot Legal Society, which represents the Anita Place campers, called the province’s move a “step in the right direction,” but added there’s plenty more that needs to be done for the city’s homeless population.
“This is still an insufficient number of units to house those who are chronically homeless in Maple Ridge,” staff lawyer Anna Cooper said. “Housing solutions should be based on regional need, not the number of people recently living at Anita Place.”
The society also called it “a scathing indictment” of the city’s housing plan.
Cooper added she’s concerned the province didn’t appear to consult any homeless people in the design of the facility, and that the units are meant to be temporary.
“We are still waiting for the announcement of long-term affordable housing projects,” she said.
The new facility will be operated by Coast Mental Health and provide 24-hour supports for residents. Fraser Health will also provide clinical support services.
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The province’s move is sure to be controversial. Last May, Maple Ridge city council rejected a rezoning application to build a shelter and supportive housing facility at the Burnett Street site.
Residents who have long fought the building of social housing at the site on Burnett Street said Wednesday that they weren’t surprised by the news from the province, but added they feel ignored.
Those against the project said they’ll continue to fight the development, which according to Robinson’s letter is slated to start construction in April. That includes sending the minister and their MLAs a message in the next election.
“We changed our municipal government, so we can change our provincial government as well,” Mann said.
The long-simmering debate over homelessness in Maple Ridge came to a boil at the end of February after three fires in one week at the Anita Place homeless camp, after which the site was evacuated for safety reasons.