Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tent Cities and Reducing Homelessness: challenges, solutions, and case studies on making positive progress

This week I’m attending the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities Convention. Local government official, local government staff, MLAs, and provincial staff have gathered in Victoria to discussion issues and solutions for communities throughout the provinces. This is the first time I’ve attended the UBCM Convention. On Tuesday morning, I was in a session call “Tent Cities and Homelessness.”

This session included presenters sharing how they responded to the increase in people experiencing homelessness, tent cities, as well as the tools and resources they have used to take action to reduce homelessness and eliminate tent cities.

The session started with a talk from Rich Coleman who is the Minster Responsible for Housing. He stated that the provincial government believed it was on the path to reducing homelessness throughout the province, but because of challenging economic conditions in other provinces, people who had limited job skill were moving to BC only to find no work, ending up homeless.

He said that the province has been a leader in building housing to get people out of homelessness, and that it has only been possible because of all levels of government and non-government agencies working together to get people out of homelessness.

Dominic Flanagan who is the Executive Director for BC Housing reiterated this later during the sessions; Minister Coleman stated that tent cities are a barrier to getting people the help they need and should not be seen under any circumstance as a good thing.

When people end up on the street, fast action is necessary to get people the help they need. Minister Coleman stated that the province is willing to do its part to fund supportive housing, but it needs the support of local government to provide the zoning and political will to make it happen.

James Yardley who is a lawyer form Murdy & McAllister provided the legal context on why people are allowed to camp in park in municipalities throughout BC. The City of Langley prepared FAQ and background documents which cover much on the content that was covered by Yardley.

One of the observation he pointed out was that the court appears willing to allow municipalities to enforce “no camping” provisions only if there is enough low-barrier housing in a community. Interestingly enough, the courts never defined what is “enough” nor if community meant municipal boundaries or a section of a region. For example, if the Township of Langley had low-barrier housing available, would that housing count towards low-barrier housing in Langley City. Homelessness doesn’t stop at a municipal boundaries in our region.

Mayor Lisa Helps from the City of Victoria as well as Greg Steves who is the Assistant Deputy Mister of the Office of Housing and Construction Standards talked about the tent city in Victoria which was recently in the news.

Mayor Lisa Helps from the City of Victoria presenting on Tent City.

Helps noted that since the 1990s, the federal government has cut per capita funding for public/affordable housing in half. She said this is one of the reasons why there has been a homelessness and affordable housing crisis in Canada.

Helps and Steves noted that building strong relationships was the key to getting people out of the Victoria tent city and into supportive housing. Municipality/provincial collaboration was critical to the success of the removal of the tent city, and equally important was the relationship built with people who were camping. Because of the relationship built with the campers, the government was able to work to get people into housing in a positive way without needing to use a “heavy hand.”

When it comes to building supportive housing, Helps stated that it was critical to listen to, and address the concerns of residents about supportive housing in their neighbourhoods. She noted that because of the relationships they built with residents, they were able to build supportive housing with community buy-in. In fact, the community is now happy with the positive impact both temporary shelters and permanent supportive housing has had in their neighbourhoods.

Mayor Nicole Read from Maple Ridge talked about her experience with getting people out of tents and into housings. Some of the highlights from her presentation was the need to combat the cycle of shame and stigma around homelessness. She also noted that women’s needs have to be considered when it comes to supportive housing, and that is currently missing. Mayor Read stated that homelessness is a symptom, and that more focus needs to be placed upstream including helping young people out and people with mental health issues before they are homeless.

Mayor Peter Milobar from Kamloops said that his City has an Affordable Housing Reserve Fund which they contribute at least $50,000 per year into. This funding is used to support affordable rental housing, transitional housing, supportive housing, and emergency shelters in their community.

Reducing homelessness takes the support of all levels of government, non-profit organizations, and local residents in a community. It was really encouraging to see that other cities have been successful in reducing homelessness, and getting people into housing with the required support to lift them out of the poverty.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Health Authority finds link between healthier communities and local agriculture

How we build our communities —land-use and transport systems— have a profound impact on our health. Walkable communities are healthier communities. Over the last several years, our provincial health authorities have started publishing toolkits and data to encourage governments to build communities that enable people to have positive health outcomes.

While there is a good amount of information available about the link between walking and healthier community, not as much has been said about the link between local agriculture and our health. The Provincial Health Services Authority released a study call “Agriculture’s Connection to Health: A summary of evidence relevant to British Columbia.

There were around twenty findings in their report including:

  • Farmland preservation helps to maintain a level of food production that contributes to food self-sufficiency
  • Greater availability of locally produced fruits and vegetables may increase their consumption
  • Food self-sufficiency supports healthy eating
  • Indigenous foods, foodlands, and waters contribute to healthy eating and physical health and are core parts of culture and identity for Indigenous populations
  • The availability of culturally appropriate or traditional fresh fruits and vegetables can be an important part of healthy eating for immigrant populations
  • The availability of local food can help people to feel connected with their environment

In the South of Fraser, a large amount of land is within the Agricultural Land Reserve. The continued protection of this land is critical not only for food security, but also to support better health outcomes for people in our region.

The Provincial Health Services Authority noted in their study that there is opportunity for further research on the link between local agriculture and human health. I wouldn’t be surprise if on-going research finds even stronger connections between health and local agriculture.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

September 19, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Supporting positive activity in Downtown Langley and upcoming neighbourhood meetings

Today will be my last post about the City of Langley council meeting which was held on Monday. On Tuesday, I posted about homelessness matters addressed. Yesterday, I posted about development matters that were heard at council. Today, I will be posting on the rest of the matters dealt with at that council meeting.

Council heard presentations from two organizations. Roslyn Henderson from Big Brothers, Big Sisters noted that September is the month which celebrates their organization. She thanked the City for allowing their flag to be raised outside of City Hall this month. Henderson stated that 400 children are being mentored with the support of 250 volunteers in Langley. She said that the amount of children being mentored is growing due to increased need in the community. Their mentoring system results in children have greater success in school, participating in less risky behaviour, leading to future achievements. Henderson also noted that long term mentor Rob Ross, who has volunteered with the organization for 40 year, received the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal.

Next Carly Stromsten from the Langley Environmental Partners Society presented on their Summer Eco Crew program which the City of Langley helps finance. This program employs both secondary and post-secondary students, giving them work experience and job skills training while enhancing the environment of Langley City.

This summer, they removed 800 square meters of invasive blackberry, installed tree guards, monitored Japanese knotweed sites that were removed last year, and cleaned up 600 square meters of garbage from natural areas. The Summer Eco Crew also attended eight community events and workshops, promoting environmental conservation.

During the Mayor’s Report, Mayor Schaffer stated that council will be meeting with the Good Times Cruise-In Society to discuss the miscommunication that occurred this August and other matters around the annual event.

The mayor also thanked Teri James and the Downtown Langley Merchants Association for another year of the successful McBurney Plaza Summer Series.

By having events that promote positive active in our public spaces, negative activity is reduced. In fact, these types of events dollar for dollar do more to reduce negative active in our Downtown than increasing policing.

The City of Langley will also be hosting three neighbourhood meetings in the coming month. They will be for the Uplands & Alice Brown neighbourhoods, Simonds & Blacklock neighbourhoods, and Douglas & Nicomekl neighbourhoods. As stated on the City’s website, “at the meetings you will have the opportunity to learn about City programs and services, give your input on new and current initiatives including the City’s rebranding efforts, and gain understanding on how the City is improving the livability of your community.”

Council gave final reading to Bylaw 2991 and Bylaw 3001 which relate to solid waste. I posted about these bylaws last week.

Council also gave first, second, and third reading to update our 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Plan. This was mostly a housekeeping item, but it will allow the City to move forward with the procurement of a new fire pumper truck which was also approved on Monday by council.

Council also approved the staff recommended permissive tax exemptions for 2017. These exemptions relieve the following non-profit organizations from paying property tax:

  • Langley Seniors Resource Society
  • Langley Stepping Stones
  • Langley Community Music School
  • Langley Lawn Bowling
  • Langley Community Services
  • Salvation Army Gateway of Hope
  • Ishtar Transition Housing
  • Global School Society
  • Southgate Christian Fellowship
  • Langley Care Society
  • Langley Hospice Society
  • Langley Association for Community Living

Councillor Storteboom made a motion to add the Langley Food Bank to the list of organizations that receive permissive tax exemptions. I supported this motion, but the remainder of council did not. This motion was not successful.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September 19, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Putting walkability first, developer improves original plan. Other development application examined.

Yesterday, I posted about the matters that Langley City council addressed around homelessness at Monday night’s regular council meeting. Today, I will be posted about development matters that council addressed.

The residents of the City were given the opportunity to comment on a development variance permit for 20041 Grade Crescent and a development permit for 20151 Fraser Highway (Valley Centre Mall).

The owner of 20041 Grade Crescent was seeking approval to subdivide his lot in half. This would allow two houses to be built. A variance was required because the lot width would be 14.5m along Grade Crescent as opposed to 16m which is the minimum as permitted under our RS1 zone.

The owner of 20051 Grade Crescent was at Monday’s council meeting. He owns the adjacent, wider lot. He was concerned that the proposed subdivision would “crowd the street.” I asked staff to review property widths along Grade Crescent and we saw that both 20061 and 20022, which are near 20041, have similar narrow lot widths.

Proposed streetscape along Grade Crescent as a result of approved variance. Select image to enlarge.

One of the things that I’ve heard from people in the community is concerns about both “monster houses” and tree clearing during redevelopment.

Because these are narrower lots, the two proposed new houses will have similar footprints to the current housing in the neighbourhood. A tree management plan was also prepared for the site. While some tree will be removed, they will be replaced.

Next, Council opened up the floor for comments on an infill project at Valley Centre Mall. There was one written submission in opposition to the project.

For some history, this development permit was original scheduled for the July 25th council meeting, but was pulled from the agenda. Our Advisory Planning Committee had serious concerns around traffic control, pedestrian access, the drive-thru, impact to the residential development across the street, and the location of the refuse/recycling area.

Original site plan fro Valley Centre Mall infill development. Select image to enlarge.

View from Fraser Highway of originally proposed Valley Centre Mall infill development. Select image to enlarge.

I had major concerns that the original plan didn’t create an active, inviting, or walkable streetscape along Fraser Highway as envisioned in our Downtown Master Plan. I also had a problem with the location of the drive-thru.

The original plan was very disappointing, but the proponent of this project took the last few months to vastly improve the project plan.

The biggest change is that the building now fronts Fraser Highway, and will have pedestrian access via Fraser Highway. There have also been various improvements to enhance walkability throughout the rest of the mall. The drive-thru has also been reconfigured to reduce its impact.

Approved site plan for Valley Centre Mall infill development. Select image to enlarge.

View from Fraser Highway of approved Valley Centre Mall infill development. Select image to enlarge.

While I don’t support drive-thrus, the current zoning in our Downtown allows drive-thrus. This is something that I’d like to see changed.

As part of this project, the mall will be reopening its parking lot located on Industrial Avenue. It will have improved lightings.

All of council was impressed that the proponent of this project took the feedback of the community and our committee, and changed the design.

By the end of the Monday night meeting, a development variance permit for 20041 Grade Crescent and a development permit for Valley Centre Mall were approved by council. Council also gave first and second reading for two zoning bylaw amendments for an apartment and townhouse development. These two proposed zoning bylaw amendments will now be going to a public hearing at a future council meeting. I will post more about these proposed developments once they come to the public hearing phase.