COLUMN: Seeking clear communication from BC Housing

An open invitation to BC Housing to come to the next Grand Forks city council meeting

I have learned very quickly that it is impossible to eventually not meet everyone in a small town. In just a couple months, I’ve ran into a recurring cast of Boundary characters over a variety of stories. Most of the time, they were just there to observe —not implicated themselves, necessarily — but I’ve learned it’s not uncommon to be on the board of this or that organization as well as a protester here and an advocate over there, all the while playing ball on the weekend. The point is, it’s tough to not be known and recognized here, and that’s where I take issue with one of the major players in town: the ever-present yet tough to find character that is BC Housing.

Issues with the warming centre and its future, as well as with the proposed 2nd Street (then 70th Street, and now again 2nd Street) supportive housing project all have a single player in common: BC Housing. The Crown corporation is funding the warming centre (through Whispers of Hope) and appears to be resolute in its goal to build a 34-unit supportive housing project downtown (to be operated by another organization) after having rejected alternative property offers. But in the months since both social services facilities have been kicking up dust in the Gazette as well as on radio and TV newscasts, representatives from BC Housing have not come readily to engage, meet and set records straight. (Ann Howard, BC Housing’s regional director for the Interior, did come to several council and public meetings through the spring. However, since the alternative location at 70th Avenue was rejected, no representative has made public comments in Grand Forks).

For, against, or wherever you stand on these facilities that may well offer important services to people in Grand Forks, there is one thing that maybe most can agree on: can we at least hear it straight from BC Housing? It’s frustrating to report on something when you can’t put a face to the names on email chains, or even a voice over the phone for that matter. I’m sure that for concerned residents, it could do a world of good to offer something in terms of community outreach in order to try and deconstruct the caricature of a looming presence that the words “BC Housing” have come to evoke in council meetings, public hearings and online discussion.

Weeds, the company that owns the warming centre building, has at least sent a representative to most council meetings this month in order to hear concerns. BC Housing, which is involved in at least three ongoing projects within city limits, has not. Even the city’s corporate officer said that he has been playing phone tag with the organization for more than a week, trying to schedule a meeting between the city, the Crown corporation and Whispers of Hope in order to determine a future for the warming centre.

BC Housing has only communicated with the Gazette via email, offering information that does not always represent the reality on the ground. So please, BC Housing, consider this column an invitation to come visit Grand Forks, meet the movers, shakers and passionate people, make your case and take the opportunity to be transparent in your reasoning and decision making. The next Grand Forks city council meeting is on Monday, July 15.

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