Every Sunday we recap local lifestyle and culture news that you may have missed over the last seven days. This week it's all about real talk concerning homelessness and housing needs, and more shots are fired in Westcorp's blame offensive.
Kelowna Gets Serious About Homelessness and Maybe Housing Needs Overall
Earlier this week the City of Kelowna announced a draft of its strategy to control and prevent homelessness. The “Journey Home” Task Force has been working on a plan over the past couple years and they have estimated that
…about 5,000 people need help with housing in the city, including 150 or so chronically homeless, another 200 who experience episodic homelessness, some 1,600 who are in transition and a further 2,900 Kelowna residents who are at high risk of homelessness. (from Infotel)
The strategy is comprehensive and involves a large amount of provincial and federal funding. It will take 47 million dollars, with half coming from the feds and the province combined and the rest from Kelowna’s non-profit, voluntary sector.
This type of commitment is what happens when government finally acknowledges the scope and the roots of the problem, and not just the severity of its symptoms – things like needles in parks or hundreds of men and women sleeping on the streets, which while serious on their own, are the tip of a pretty big iceberg.
This approach of the task force is noteworthy in that it does away with a compartmentalized perspective of homelessness as an isolated problem, and instead considers it as part of a wider ecosystem. A system affected by an economic and demographic situation that has resulted in an unhealthy housing stock that doesn’t fit the needs of its citizens.
Informing this task force – as well as the Healthy Housing Strategy – is the Housing Needs Assessment (HNA). This is a pretty detailed study that recognizes the gaps and shortcomings of our housing – whether they be the dominance of an unpredictable secondary rental market rather than a solid primary rental market; a duplication of services in response to homelessness; a need for more precise data collection; extended stays at short-term support facilities; a fast growing divide between income and housing costs; and a next to non-existent vacancy rate. Moreover it understands that movement in one part of the housing market can deeply affect others. For example, a lack of affordable or available rentals can push folks into the supported housing sector which then puts strain on those relying on that, eventually leading to more and more housing-vulnerable or homeless citizens.
So the name of the game of this assessment is prevention and resilience. They do this in two major ways: one is a perspective of “Housing First” - that shelter is a human right and that we must house people even before dealing with underlying factors like addiction, mental health, discrimination, employment; and second, through what they call the "wheelhouse". The wheelhouse is a framework for understanding that the issue doesn’t exist on a continuum from homeless to ownership with a one-way trajectory as the goal (this is capitalism after all), and that citizens will likely move around this wheelhouse depending on micro and macro circumstances. The aim here is that there is support at every one of these sectors of the wheelhouse – a healthy housing stock.
It’s certainly promising that the city is getting real, no matter how dire the present starting point is. Given that Kelowna will need to raise a lot of money to make the remainder of the budget, here’s hoping the present and future council and mayor can provide strong leadership and get a strong buy-in from the community, and moreover prioritize the developers and other stakeholders in the housing community to address all Kelownians' housing needs. This week we will follow this up with a piece on directions the HNA has suggested and the issues facing our city as they attempt to implement them in any meaningful way.
More Westcorp Excuses
Earlier this week, Gail Temple, Westcorp Vice President of Operations visited local blog Kelowna Now for a third time this year for a sit down interview with Kent Molgat to explain why their massive waterfront hotel/condo tower is being delayed yet again.
In the interview she revealed that she hopes that the sales centre will go up for the 33 storey tower some time next year. There were some other tidbits that she disclosed to Kent that were not exactly front and centre in the days surrounding the approval process, such as: at least 50% of the 47 luxury condos for sale will be occupied by residents who will only spend a small portion of their time here. "These are second homes that people use 100 days a year," she says, adding that while other developers are moving ahead with their own developments throughout the back drop of this upcoming speculation tax legislation, "their target market and price point is a little different", and that Westcorp’s condo purchasers will not be looking to rent them out when they're not in them. That's really healthy for Kelowna’s housing and overall economic contributions.
Gail mentioned on a couple of occasions that "BC is being unfriendly" towards these potential purchasers. As full time residents in Kelowna, we often wonder why that question can't be asked the other way around? As a homeowner, why are you only gracing us with your presence when the weather is just right? Why don't you like us enough to commit to the health of our city full time and rent your units out when you're not here, and in so doing help us out of our current housing crisis? If BC being “unfriendly” means attempting to make it realistic to house its citizens and create vibrant communities, then something’s askew with her view.
Gail's biggest concession in the interview came when she said this:
"We were supposed to go to hearing (at city council) in December but it was the city who asked us to take a step back and relook at Queensway, which we did and created the beautiful street plaza, and that put us at hearing on February 20. So our timelines when we were scheduled for early December were ample to make all the decisions to be made about a presentation centre. But the reality is we would have been really pressed for time, and you don't want to be when you're trying to sell high end real estate."
At the February 20 city council meeting when the city approved the project, Temple had plenty of opportunity to bring this up and mention that the initial presentation centre (and subsequent marketing you would think) would likely not start until 2019, but she did not. She could have come clean even after Councillor Mohini Singh addressed her face to face and hoped that, upon her approving the project, that there would be no further delays. Temple remained quiet. So Gail Temple, when you say that this project will get done, your word is not bond. The last delay in 2016 was for the supposed concern over the water table near Kerry Park. This time it's a two month delay before going to council that is pushing the project back a full year. That math doesn't exactly compute.
Thai Terrace Soft Launch
Back in mid March we noted that the former location of the Wings chain in downtown Kelowna across from City Park was getting a new tenant. Thai Terrace has soft launched this weekend and we know more about the restaurant now. Luke Sumpantarat and his wife Ess used to own Thai Fusion in West Kelowna, the establishment that was forced to close last year after years of vandalism.
The couple will hold a grand opening for Thai Terrace once their liquor licence is approved, and they've added a nice addition to their team, May Kannika, who was the former kitchen manager of the tasty ZABB Thai Restaurant in Pandosy Village.
We wish them well with their new endeavour. Check out the menu. Note that they were only open temporarily this weekend, and following their liquor licence approval anticipated after this upcoming long weekend, they'll be open seven days a week.