Opposition, and support, emerge on low-barrier housing

A group of north end Nanaimo residents are digging in against a proposed 35-unit low barrier housing unit scheduled to be built in their neighbourhood.

Jim Routledge

Jim Routledge

A group of north end Nanaimo residents are digging in against a proposed 35-unit low barrier housing unit scheduled to be built in their neighbourhood. But there’s also a movement of support among neighbours.

A group called Concerned Citizens of Nanaimo plans to hold politicians accountable in the upcoming election and issued a mail-out of a controversial pamphlet.

The group released about 16,000 pamphlets to north-end residences in an effort to stop a supportive housing project at 6025 Upland Dr.

At first glance, the pamphlet shows a happy, nuclear family strolling through an affluent neighbourhood. A closer look reveals a drug addict in the background, back against a white picket fence, injecting herself with a needle. Above the photo, bold white lettering on a red background asks ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’

Organizers did not return requests from the News Bulletin for comment, but on the Concerned Citizens of Nanaimo Facebook page, the group says it would hold accountable politicians who voted in favour of supportive housing at the Uplands site.

“If the sitting council members are for re-election, then we have a duty to call them on their actions,” the post said. “Voting in a wet house in such an inappropriate area, without the right consultation and support services, is unacceptable… if any councillor says they voted on the new site in full knowledge of the issues, then do we really want them representing us as a population? If they lose their seat as a result, that’s good news. Council should reflect the needs of their constituents.”

Fred Kardel, who lives about one kilometre from the site, said he reserves his thoughts on the social aspect of the housing, but questions the democratic process.

“It just doesn’t seem right,” said Kardel, who said he is not part of Concerned Citizens group. “It seems city hall has taken the easy way out of this. What really got me concerned about this issue was the process of selecting this site and announcing it seemed very undemocratic and very unlike what municipal politics should be.”

Kardel said the issue caused him to pay closer attention to local government.

“I’ve gone through the Local Government Act and it talks an awful lot about transparency and I’m just not seeing that in this process,” he said.

While Concerned Citizens of Nanaimo collected about 75 signatures on its online petition, north-end resident and developer Jim Routledge took it upon himself to learn more about supportive housing.

On his own time and money, Routledge travelled to Victoria three times to see for himself on how supportive housing works in communities south of the Malahat and to interview people who live in similar units there, as well as staff and neighbours. He also visited Nanaimo’s Balmoral low-barrier housing site.

Skeptical of supportive housing at first, Routledge said his research changed his mind.

“From what I have seen, I believe that the necessary support can be provided, that management can prevent problems and can manage the health and safety of the residents and the residents can contribute positively to the neighbourhood,” said Routledge, who has developed 14 properties and owns three more within one kilometre of the proposed site.

He said the city’s new zoning bylaw, coupled with the Uplands site announcement, forced him to get involved.

He started his own petition in response to the ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ pamphlet that arrived on his doorstep. So far he has, through conversation derived from going door-to-door, about 45 signatures. He also started a blog at http://jimsworld2012.blogspot.com/2011/10/new-north-end-wet-house-index.html.

“I wasn’t prepared to accept anything until I found something that I liked and that happened in Langford and Saanich where I found two places, Fairway Woods and Olympic Vista, and they are accepted within the community, one is right beside a seniors care facility, another is right beside new condos that are all sold out,” Routledge said. “Very similar situations and they fit in, it’s working. I’m not sure what I have to do to show people. It may come down to hiring a bus and taking people down and showing them that it works.”

The issue is expected to be discussed publicly at Monday’s (Oct. 17) council meeting at 7 p.m. at the Shaw Auditorium at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

Holly Groess, who lives a block away from the site with her young family, said she wants to learn more before coming to any conclusions.

“It’s a bit of a concern because of the children and we’re so close, and my brother- in-law is right beside it, but we’re just so busy to really get involved even though we know its important,” she said.