By Andru McCracken

A resident raised a stir on social media when he singled out vacant properties in McBride as a solution for housing people who can’t find a place to live. The man was referring to four families he knew personally who were unable to find housing. The online thread quickly grew to over 100 comments and eventually the Discussion Board moderator turned off comments and deleted the thread altogether.

Lina Thompson used to rent in McBride, but moved to Valemount partly in search of good affordable stable housing, something she wasn’t able to find in McBride.
Reading the thread, the stereotypes of renters as negligent house trashers bother her, and she wonders if this is affecting the lack of rentals.

Thompson is the Executive Director for Robson Valley Community Services and she meets people for whom housing, a basic need, is not met.

“We see folks come in who are struggling with childcare, we can help these people as much as we can with as many resources as we can offer to reach their full potential… but if they have insecure housing it all falls apart,” she said.

“We are constantly band-aiding situations. The underlying issue is how are they going to provide a safe place for themselves and their families.”

Thompson said McBride’s deep capacity to share and help their neighbours may be masking the problem for provincial agencies in charge of housing.

“McBride will not allow people to be in the street; because of that kindness and generosity, you don’t show the numbers to reflect the need,” said Thompson.

Thompson said without hard homelessness numbers it’s difficult for BC Housing to act.

But a lack of appropriate housing, across the board, interferes with people’s lives.

“We see seniors who need a little bit of support not able to get into housing and who have to be removed completely from the community, removed from everything they know and love … and you have young people who don’t have anywhere to be unless they can buy a home.”

Thompson said the lack of secure long-term rentals also pushes out anybody who isn’t ready to buy in the community – the same reason she and her husband moved to Valemount.

“When they leave that’s a loss to our community,” she said.

“If you don’t start recruiting young professional families here, who is going to grow the economy?”

“We need the wisdom of our seniors and the labour of the young families- you need both. We are not addressing that,” she said.

Thompson said the Robson Valley Community Services don’t have anything to offer people who need homes.

“We can do our best to try and find something, but we don’t have rental stock here and that’s hard,” she said.

“As an agency, we are pursuing affordable and supportive housing because we believe it is a compliment to the services we already offer. Unfortunately, the process takes time and many families can’t wait.”

Awkward discussions
Linda Fry characterized the online discussion about housing as awkward. She said McBride’s many vacant and vacant-looking homes aren’t appropriate to house residents experiencing homelessness in the community.

Fry, a long-time resident and a member of the McBride and District Housing Society said some of the homes are in probate after the owner has died, other homes are in disrepair or have suffered water damage.

“A number of them are not good-quality homes,” said Fry. “Each one of those empty homes has a story.”
But Fry said that there is definitely a need for housing.

“We need affordable housing in this community; a range of housing from seniors supportive housing, family housing, housing with subsidized rents,” she said.

The McBride and District Housing Society is working on a solution, but nothing is imminent.

“If we should be able to push this project down the road and get to the place where we could build housing, we not only need a property manager but to school tenants in how to look after a place. Not everybody knows what to do when a roof has a leak, or how to clean the gutters,” she said.

“When people are housed we are much further ahead financially, morally, spiritually. There is such an impact on our health care system, life would be better for everyone.”

Fry said the current BC Housing model demonstrated in the Beaverview Lodge leaves much to be desired.

“Most of the people who are looking for housing are accustomed to seeing you up town and asking about a vacant unit; they are not used to dealing with BC Housing in Burnaby,” she said.

The Mayor’s view
Mayor Gene Runtz believes the answer to housing starts with getting the community’s economy going.

“If it ends up happening that you have much more money around, you have private people who will buy these low cost homes, and put in $30,000-worth of work,” said Runtz.

“It’s not an easy answer where there is just plain no money around.”

Runtz isn’t stoked on building new low-cost housing, though he said it would help.

“I’m not against it, but I hate to think that’s what we have to do,” he said.

Runtz is working on a project to bring a major industrial project to the community. Boreal Bioenergy has said they’d like to build a black pellet plant which would ship local wood processed into a sort of coal substitute to Japanese markets.