ROGER ALBERT (Guest columnist)
I sincerely applaud Courtenay for moving ahead on the Braidwood project, but I also know that the population of Courtenay is 37 per cent of the Valley population.
Why should Courtenay residents stand alone in dealing with this Valley-wide issue? Any solution to this thorny problem needs to be a Valley-wide one and the CVRD is the logical choice to get action started by creating an arms-length non-profit society to champion the issue.
The reality is that Braidwood addresses only a limited portion of the population in housing need. There are many organizations in town that desperately want to see appropriate and affordable housing built for their clients.
At the moment, there is no way to effectively and independently evaluate projects and to decide on the most deserving or the most pressing ones, so the provincial government can argue that we don’t speak with one voice and we won’t get any provincial funding until we do.
A local government non-profit society would be able to access and leverage funds in ways municipalities and regional districts cannot. It’s conceivable that such an organization could be self-supporting in a reasonable period of time.
Some people are going to argue that we shouldn’t be spending a dime on housing anybody because if you’re poor and homeless or living in precarious accommodations it’s your fault and you don’t deserve any help. You must be lazy or unwilling to get training to ‘improve’ yourself. That may be true in a minority of cases, but physical and mental health issues create poverty and homelessness as do marriage breakdown, accidents and other unpredictable circumstances.
Do mentally and physically ill, often brain injured, people deserve to live in poor, unsuitable housing or in none at all? Do the thousands of children in the Valley who live in substandard housing with parents who are barely making it on two, or only one, minimum-wage job not deserve better?
Minimum-wage jobs create poverty too. More people (mostly women) in this Valley work in retail sales than in any other job category and it’s the lowest paid category. If you want to continue to have people serve you coffee in the morning, take your money at checkout counters all over the Valley and do your cleaning, you need to also support them in their housing needs.
As it is, they can barely afford to live here.
Whistler, B.C., realized that many of the workers it needed to work on the mountains and in the Village couldn’t afford to live there, so it sought solutions. It created a Municipal Housing Authority, a Municipal Housing reserve fund and an employee housing service charge.
(Access the following link for a profile of the Whistler solution bit.ly/1ol3fyt) I can’t imagine that the people of Whistler are any more creative than we are. Why can’t we follow Whistler’s lead?
Actually, we can. To begin, though, we need our own made-in-the-Comox Valley plan. We also need an independent organization to evaluate projects, to promote the most pressing ones and to find the money to put buildings and associated services together and support projects, existing and new ones, when and where they are viable.
The will seems to be there among local elected officials to do something. Braidwood would not be possible otherwise, but the City of Courtenay cannot and should not go it alone. We cannot ever hope to speak with one voice on this issue if we don’t get together in this Valley to find solutions to this problem collectively. Local governments, ministries, non-profits, everybody needs to be involved.
Roger Albert is the vice-president of the Comox Valley Social Planning Society and Faculty Emeritus at North Island College. He is a guest columnist for the Comox Valley Record, addressing social issues within the community.