The term “saved by the bell” seemed appropriate as the Minister responsible for housing David Eby ducked in and out of an online meeting with the Sunshine Coast Emergency Housing Action Table on April 5.
Arrangements had been made weeks in advance to secure the minister’s time for an hour despite the legislature being in session. Mid-meeting, the ringing of bells signifying a call for MLAs to vote, forced Eby to take a hiatus from answering questions from the representatives of Coast local governments and community organizations that make up the table. He returned in about 10 minutes and agreed to extend his time with the group to make up for his absence.
In jest, table member Colin Stansfield, representing the Coast’s regional economic development organization (SCREDO), extended thanks to the minister as he rejoined the meeting for a vote “in favour of a second ferry for the Coast."
Eby did not confirm that was the vote that he cast, but he did tell the group to “make his office their first call” when seeking to coordinate support for housing initiatives across provincial ministries. He said he would ensure the proper connections were made to get the answers needed.
While he touted the offerings of programs like Housing Hub, available through BC Housing, Stansfield stated that local groups, including the Sunshine Coast Lions Housing Society have been told that the fund is oversubscribed. He pointed to the society’s Greenecourt expansion application as an example. Unable to secure more funds to deal with cost increases related to the pandemic and other delays, the society is now looking at removing one floor from its building plan and going from over 100 units to 90.
The minister said he had recently met with local MLA Nicholas Simons and others regarding that project and indicated that the funding situation was “tough." He said that representatives of BC Housing were meeting with the proponents to “try to find a way forward” for that project. A question about funding for modular home construction to quickly expand local housing supply was also raised to Eby. He told the group now was the time to develop project plans and secure building locations so that they are prepared for the next call for proposals for this type of funding. He said he anticipates that will happen in 2023.
The issue of pending evictions of 30 long term tenants from Gibsons’ Irwin Motel and the lack of other accommodation for those people to move to was discussed. Eby said he was not familiar with that specific case. He stated that in the case of persons in need of assistance to afford a place to live, provincial rental subsidies are available to qualified individuals.
Stansfield asked the minister for help addressing a housing issue impacting local parents with children in the province’s care. He explained that with a lack of appropriately priced rental housing units for families on the Coast, some of those parents face impossible challenges in establishing a home that would support the reunification of their family. “Children should not be separated from their parents due to the lack of a place to live,” Stansfield stated.
While noting that affordable housing takes time to build, Eby again encouraged individuals facing such situations to explore rental subsidies that can make market-priced rentals more affordable.
The minister also asked for the table’s and local government’s support to pressure the federal government to put more funding into housing for First Nations peoples. In his view, the federal investment in housing for Indigenous peoples over the past decades has not been adequate. Pointing to the current BC government’s work to build housing in cooperation with First Nations and on their lands, Eby said “We are using that as a tool to shame the federal government into matching that investment.”