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B.C. housing minister looks at housing and labour shortage while in Vernon

Minister Ravi Kahlon got a close-up view of The Crossings units on 35th Street
Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu (left), Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon and Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming met outside The Crossings in Vernon for a tour of the supportive housing building Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Vernon might be a model community when it comes to building homes for the homeless, but it’s not enough.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon was in Vernon Thursday to take a tour of the city’s newest supportive housing building.

The Crossings on 35th Street provides more than 50 units of supportive housing to the community, operated by Turning Points Collaborative Society. The building is nearly identical to My Place next door, which opened in July 2019. BC Housing provided approximately $14.6 million for the project and will provide annual operating funding to the tune of about $1.2 million.

Rent at The Crossings is $375 with two meals provided daily, or residents can cook for themselves in their furnished units, which each have a kitchen and private bathroom.

Kahlon is currently travelling around the province speaking to mayors and not-for-profit groups about the housing challenges they face. On Thursday he said the province is currently refreshing its housing strategy, “so you’ll have very soon a road map of what we’re going to be doing in the province’s perspective to ensure that the housing that people need — no matter where they are in their lives, no matter what they need — is there for them.”

That could mean more supportive housing units like The Crossings, or more affordable rental units or “smaller units that people can actually afford to buy.”

Despite the completion of The Crossing, Vernon is still experiencing a significant housing crunch.

Vernon’s vacancy rate is low — below one per cent — and Kahlon said he’ll speak to mayor and council about fixing that problem by getting different types of housing online.

“One-and-a-half per cent (vacancy rate) is bad, and when you’re below one per cent, that means you’ve got a real serious issue,” Kahlon said, adding the province is looking at programming to increase rental units and affordable buying units.

Kahlon said Vernon has 152 supportive housing units now and about 150 units that are in progress.

“We’ve increased the provincial budget for housing by 600 per cent in 2017 when we got into government, but the challenge we have is those units are only coming online now, and that shows you how long it takes to get these units built, so we need more funding, we need Canada to get more involved again in housing, but we also need to have this housing built faster so that we can get people that desperately need this housing to get it faster,” he said.

Kahlon said two things are needed to address housing challenges in a community: leadership and empathy.

“Those are two very important things Vernon has, which I think is going to set us up for success in this community.”

Between The Crossings and My Place, Vernon is becoming a model for other cities looking to address the housing crunch.

“Vernon is a leader in that front,” Kahlon said. “We’re looking for that formula to take to other communities, because we want to make sure that the success that we’re seeing here is replicated in other parts of the province.”

The housing affordability crisis and B.C.’s current labour shortage “go hand in hand,” said Kahlon, and a successful economy depends on providing housing for people coming to the province, whether they’re coming from other Canadian provinces or immigrating from other countries.

“We need to have people from other provinces come, we need to have immigration here. But at the same time if we don’t build the right housing for people, not only will the people coming here not be successful, not only will our economy not be successful, but it will also make it unsuccessful for the people who are already living in communities who are struggling,” he said.

Vernon mayor Victor Cumming said Vernon had a record year for building permits in 2022, but it isn’t enough.

“I wish we were far more successful, I think we’ve had some facilities go in that are really positive, (but) clearly at less than one per cent vacancy rate we’re well off of what we need, so we need to be able to accelerate this process,” Cumming said.

Cumming said he’s discussed with the housing minister about how Vernon can address the ‘missing middle,’ the mid-range housing “that has been under-developed over the last decade.”

Standing outside The Crossing, he said Vernon needs more of these supportive housing units, adding there is a plan to add another building. He said Vernon also needs a complex care facility and “a mechanism to bring on rental accommodations for the people who work here.”

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Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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