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Promised housing remains unfunded in Kelowna

KELOWNA – A lack of funding for a promised supportive housing project has become an election issue.

In March 2008, the provincial government announced an agreement with the City of Kelowna to build three supportive housing projects on city property.

“This agreement ensures construction can begin as soon as possible,” Housing Minister Rich Coleman said in a March 19, 2008, press release.

The release said the province expected construction to begin in early 2009 and be completed in 2010.

Three non-profit agencies were selected to run the projects: The Canadian Mental Health Association, New Opportunities for Women Canada Society, and the John Howard Society.

The agencies collaborated on their planning in order to provide a continuum of care. The idea was that people who got their lives stabilized in the CMHA or NOW facility would be able to move into long-term housing in the John Howard Society facility.

The John Howard Society’s 49-suite complex was the first of the three projects to get a development permit, which Kelowna city council granted on April 6 of this year.

Three days later, the province sent out a press release announcing $22.7 million in infrastructure funding for the CMHA and NOW projects. The John Howard project was not mentioned.

Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd said she heard rumours that the John Howard project would not get its funding the day after her council granted the development permit. Shepherd got in touch with the housing ministry and was told funding would not be coming for the John Howard Society project “at this time,” she said.

Shepherd is concerned with the turn of events. For one thing, the John Howard Society project is more shovel-ready than the other two supportive housing projects.

“That one is truly ahead of the others by a couple of months,” she said.

The Mayor also liked the continuum of care model the community agencies developed and that the province approved.

“The longer it’s delayed then that continuum of care will not be ready,” she said.

Tish Lakes, a local housing advocate who is running for the NDP in the constituency of Westside-Kelowna, is outraged.

“You’ve got these agencies trying to work together,” she said. “They get approval for this thing, they go ahead, they make plans, and then suddenly it’s like the rug is unceremoniously pulled out from under them.”

Norm Letnick is a former city councillor and the B.C. Liberal candidate in Kelowna-Lake Country, where the John Howard Society facility is slated to be built. During his time on council, Letnick championed housing and homelessness initiatives and chaired the city’s affordable housing taskforce.

He says the Liberals will deliver the third project eventually.

“The B.C. Liberals still remain committed to the third housing project,” he said. “It will just take a little longer. Letnick said funding for CMHA and NOW projects are coming out of the province’s recent $14 billion infrastructure fund.

“That was a special infrastructure program to create jobs,” he said, noting that it was a separate initiative outside of the government’s normal capital project funding cycle.

"The third project will be considered in the next funding cycle,” he added.

Letnick also said the provincial government spends $5.9 million a year on housing programs in the Kelowna area.

Lakes is not buying Letnick’s explanation.

“That’s not good enough because Rich Coleman came, made the big announcement, that they (the B.C. Liberals) wanted to use for political capital,” she said.

“How can you have a commitment that’s over a year old and you don’t have the money now?”

Adrian Nieoczym reports for the Kelowna Capital News.

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