In late June, about 75 people came out to a housing workshop hosted by the Mountain Co-Lab to look at ways to make housing more affordable by encouraging a more diverse range of options in Revelstoke like laneway homes, tiny homes, and co-housing.
The Co-Lab office was overflowing with people looking to discuss an issue that is arguably the most pressing facing the community.
The Revelstoke Community Housing Society could only dream of such a turnout.
Last Monday, Jan. 9, the society held the first meeting of its new existence as an independent organization, and only 11 people came out. Significantly, there was no cross-over between the Co-Lab crowd and those that showed up to elect a new board of the organization who’s official aims are to develop and manage affordable housing in Revelstoke and “promote awareness of housing issues in the community.”
“I was expecting members of the new young community saying they would want to be involved,” said Glenn O’Reilly, the society’s new chair following the meeting. “It’s frustrating. The blood that we have isn’t bad blood, they have good ideas. But new blood would help.”
The housing society is at a crossroads. Over the past year, the city has divested itself of control over the housing society, giving up the four seats held by councillors and the one held by the director of economic development. Councillor Connie Brothers is now the city’s lone representative on the new board that was elected last Monday.
As part of the re-organization, the housing society became a membership-based organization. 13 people signed up and 10 showed up for Monday’s meeting. They elected a new board consisting of:
— Glenn O’Reilly, the owner of Selkirk Design-Works;
— Cathy Girling from Community Connections;
— Peter Bernacki, the owner of Nu-Trend Construction;
— Bruce MacLachlan, a local builder
— Pam Doyle, the former superintendent of Parks Canada and former chair of the Revelstoke Senior Citizen’s Housing Society;
— Bertha Stone, a drug & alcohol counsellor with Interior Health; and
— Councillor Connie Brothers.
Two seats were left open due to a lack of interest.
What was notable about the presence around the table was that they were all people who have a long history of involvement in local affairs. The members present included consultant Cindy Pearce, the city’s social coordinator Jill Zacharias and Alan Mason, the city’s director of economic development.
The people that showed up to the Co-lab session in June were not there.
“I was expecting members of the new young community would show up saying they would want to be involved. I was concerned we’d have too many, but we got nothing,” said O’Reilly.
I asked Greg Hoffart, the owner of Tree Construction and co-organizer of the Co-lab meeting, why he wasn’t there. One reason is he felt it would put him in conflict when bidding on any construction projects from the housing society.
The other was the bureaucracy involved.
“They have a housing crisis and they meet once a month to deal with it,” he said. “The first meeting I went to, the meeting ended in four hours of disucssion. No action items, no directives, just, ‘Hey let’s meet next month.'”
He said he’d rather try to work in the private sector to solve the issue, and he was willing to act as a consultant, but he didn’t want to join.
“I was asked to be in the group and I was a bit honoured to have an invitation but at the same time, if we have a problem with housing, I can talk to a private investor, we can buy some land and I can build a 200 unit affordable housing complex and I can have it built by the end of the next year and it’s ready to go,” he said. “Meanwhile your commitee has spent two years discussing the next project.”
The housing society meeting last Monday lasted for 2.5 hours. It began with the election of a new board and continued with the regular meeting where they went over some minor issues with the 12-unit Oscar Street development.
They then moved into a strategic planning session where they discussed the new land-use plan for the city’s Bridge Creek property that was adopted by council just before Christmas. The plan sets aside the bulk of the property for future use, while allocating three smaller parcels for affordable housing.
Glenn O’Reilly, the society’s new chair, attacked the new plan for not mentioning the housing society.
“We said we needed a parcel put aside for us and we’ve been excluded,” he said. “I feel like we’ve been snubbed.”
Councillor Connie Brothers said council’s decision was final and that the housing society should now ask to use one of the pieces set aside for the housing society.
“The housing society needs to say what we want to do,” she said. “There was a clear understanding (council would) pass this, then get on board with the housing society to begin to move forward and communicate.”
She pushed for the society to meet with Allan Chabot, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, to talk about getting the right to use the land.
There was a big debate on what to do next, with some urging to get moving quickly and others suggesting a day-long, facilitated strategic planning process.
At the end, the society agreed to seek a meeting with Chabot and to hold a proper strategic planning session, but they stopped shy of asking the city for the right to develop part of the Oscar Street property.
“We need buildings for couples, single people and families,” said director Bertha Stone.
“Whatever we build, we can fill immediately,” said O’Reilly.