B.C.’s Housing Minister is non-committal about funding an independent audit of existing social housing projects in Penticton, B.C., per mayor and council’s request.
Penticton mayor John Vassilaki wants the province to hit pause on plans to build a fourth supportive housing development in the city until the third-party review is complete.
Vassilaki said the city has outstanding concerns about the way the other BC Housing projects are being operated.
“Our businesses are suffering, the neighbourhoods in the residential areas are suffering, crime has risen substantially,” he told Global News on Thursday.
Penticton city councillor Katie Robinson agreed, saying B.C.’s housing agency needs to provide evidence that there is a need for a fourth housing facility for the homeless in the community of approximately 36,000.
“A lot of the agencies like BC Housing are tunnel focused, they are really good at what they do but as a city council we have to provide for all the needs of all of our citizens,” she said.
Robinson also pointed to newly-released crime statistics that show Penticton RCMP has the highest criminal caseload in the province.
Penticton’s caseload is 170, according to the Police Resources in British Columbia publication, which is 140 per cent higher than the provincial average.
“When you look at the crime mapping that the RCMP provided, around the three supportive housing facilities, it looks like a small red tornado of crime around all three of those facilities,” Robinson said.
In an email to councillors, Penticton RCMP Supt. Brian Hunter said officers are experiencing burnout.
“There are some days that we just can’t respond to all the calls for service that come in,” he said.
Vassilaki said a review would ensure that BC Housing is making good on its promise to offer wrap-around services and 24/7 security at its facilities.
“I don’t believe that those things have taken place and we want to get an independent view of the situation as to what is happening,” he said.
The mayor’s proposal has the support of Penticton Liberal MLA Dan Ashton.
“I think we need a time out. Let’s take a look at how these other homes have been functioning, what the issues are, and let’s see what we are doing wrong, and start again,” Ashton said.
David Eby, B.C.’s housing minister, was non-committal about supporting an independent audit when asked for comment by Global News.
“Certainly, I think BC Housing can be trusted to do community engagement. It does a very good job of community engagement, it presents information factually — I’ve never heard any concerns about that, good or bad, but we will figure something out with Penticton,” Eby said.
He added that he’d be in favour of an internal review, as long as it didn’t impact the timeline for building the 54-unit supportive housing project at 3240 Skaha Lake Road.
“We cannot, with respect to Penticton or other communities, hold up our work to get people inside, in order to do that kind of work. We’ve got more than 160 people, named individuals who are homeless in Penticton right now, more than half of them have been homeless in Penticton for more than 10 years,” Eby said.
Mayor and council have also been critical of BC Housing for a perceived lack of community consultation about the project.
The housing agency quietly purchased the 1.2-acre lot for $2.1 million in July, according to BC Assessment records.
Eby offered a peek behind the curtains at how BC Housing purchases land, saying it often negotiates through a numbered company as to not tip off the seller that the prospective buyer is the government.
“So, unfortunately, BC Housing has to be quite secretive in negotiating leases and buying sites to avoid over-paying,” he said.
BC Housing hosted a virtual information session on January 19, which can be viewed here.
The land is zoned for the development but BC Housing will still require a development permit from the city. It says future public consultations will be held.
Construction is expected to begin this spring and is anticipated to be completed in summer 2022.