Maple Ridge council has tossed the political hot potato of housing the homeless over to the Liberal MLAs for the city.
A majority of council OK’d two resolutions at a hastily called special meeting Wednesday. One of the resolutions called for the delay of the entire proposal to convert the Quality Inn motel into a 61-unit supportive housing complex until MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton confirm their support for the location.
Another stipulation was that B.C. Housing promise to answer questions about the design and operation of the complex at soon-to-be held open house.
“As to the current status of our MLA not yet signing off on that, we do look forward to that. I think it is confusing to the public,” Mayor Nicole Read said of Liberal MLA Doug Bing (Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge).
Usually you see the provincial government in alignment, she said.
“So we certainly need them strongly at the table.”
Read said she expected to hear Thursday from Bing.
B.C. Housing made the proposal to buy the motel, which had been up for sale, and convert it to a supportive housing complex in order to house the 40 people remaining at the temporary shelter at 22239 Lougheed Highway. That closes in three months after getting a three-month extension on its closing date.
Bing said on Tuesday that he personally doesn’t oppose the location, but knows that many people do so and expressed that to the housing ministry.
“I’m not personally. I’ve had lots of citizens contact me,” he said.
“I’m just reflecting what our citizens are telling me.”
However, “right now, this is the best site.”
City chief administrator Ted Swabey, however, said that Bing is not yet committed to supporting the project in that location.
The vote on the resolutions wasn’t unanimous. Coun. Corisa Bell voted against both motions because she opposes the project. She was alone in opposing the first motion of ensuring information about the complex is provided at a future open house held by B.C. Housing.
But Couns. Bob Masse and Craig Speirs joined her in opposing the second motion that was attempting to involve the MLAs.
Speirs said he doesn’t like the location, but that there aren’t many options.
Turning the motel into a housing complex puts the future of the popular Pantry Restaurant next door in doubt.
Two petitions have been created opposing the housing project.
Coun. Tyler Shymkiw argued for delaying it.
“To me, if the government MLA doesn’t have confidence in the minister’s own proposed solutions, I find it raises very serious concerns for the community. And in that context, I don’t see how we can proceed at this time.”
The two resolutions were the latest volley in a tennis match between the city and the province over the issue.
On Monday, city council passed a motion calling for Housing Minister Rich Coleman to work with Maple Ridge-PItt Meadows MLA Bing or Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton to affirm that the Quality Inn is the best place for a supportive housing project, and to name an alternative if that wasn’t the case.
Coleman returned that Tuesday with a letter affirming the location of the Quality Inn as a supportive housing complex, but not mentioning Bing or Dalton.
Coleman also reiterated a commitment to build another purpose-built transition housing complex elsewhere in Maple Ridge.
“Homelessness is a complex issue and requires all of us to work together,” Coleman said.
Bell pointed out that the new Maple Ridge council, in its first year, could have begun talking about shelters and housing and what it wanted for the city.
“In that time, simply didn’t have those conversations.”
She wanted to approach the issue on a regional basis, involving the Lower Mainland Local Government Association.
“I think this is a Band-Aid solution.”
Masse said he’d like a regional solution, but that takes time.
Speirs doesn’t like the location for the long-term housing project, but said there weren’t many options.
“If they come here and see it as a place of refuge, that’s not the worst thing that can happen.”
The meeting drew a crowd that filled up three-quarters of the council chambers, including four former members of Maple Ridge council, Judy Dueck, Cheryl Ashlie, constituency assistant to Doug Bing, former mayor Ernie Daykin and former mayoral candidate and councillor Mike Morden.
“My question is around the notice to the public of this meeting,” said Dueck.
She only found out at 5 p.m. about the meeting that started at 6 p.m.
The meeting was posted on the city’s Facebook page, but there was no media release on the home page of the city’s website telling the public of the meeting, although it was listed under a tab labelled meetings.
Dueck said that long-term businesses around the motel are worried about it turning into a supportive housing complex.
“I think what you’re hearing is the location and the model.” Is it a low-barrier shelter or is it housing? Dueck asked.
Read said it is supportive housing. However, it’s also up to B.C. Housing to clarify how it will operate.
Coun. Gordy Robson said whatever council does should help the people in the shelter who have mental illness and drug addiction.
“I don’t feel it’s good for our community.”
Darryl Mathieson, owner of the Montessori Beginnings PreSchool and Childcare, across the Lougheed Highway from the motel, said parents have told him they’ll take their kids out of the school if the motel is turned into housing.
If students leave, he’d have to close the preschool, at a loss of 200 pre-school spaces. “We haven’t been consulted at all,” he said
“I only found out about it [the special meeting] minutes before.”
Read said such concerns are important for B.C. Housing to hear. She said also wants B.C. Housing to explain operations, the level of health care that will be available and the security.
B.C. Housing came up with the location with the only option being scattered sites throughout the city.
“I think what we’ve heard tonight is the location is totally wrong. We’re jeopardizing hundreds of lives for 40 or 50,” added Pastor Rod Shearing, with the nearby High Way Church, also on Lougheed Highway.
“It sounds like B.C. Housing is bullying council,” said another resident.
Port Haney resident Ian McLeod told council that the issue of housing is larger than “what we’re making it out to be.”
The housing crunch is worsening in Vancouver. The rental vacancy rate is only .8 per cent.
“No surprise that people are moving to Maple Ridge.”
Although MLAs were not there, Liberal MP Dan Ruimy was at the meeting and addressed council.
“I would just ask that everybody here tonight, recognize that decisions here are not solely from council.
“We can’t continue to move forward if we don’t have all the players at the table.”
B.C. Housing will host a public meeting on March 29 with RainCity Housing.
This model of housing works because it addresses the root causes of homelessness, Coleman said Thursday, after the special meeting.
“There will be full 24/7 staffing and support services, as well as a partnership with Fraser Health to ensure the Quality Inn is a success.”