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Housing process ‘flawed’ not true, says Braun

Coun. Henry Braun - File photo
Coun. Henry Braun
— image credit: File photo

With the defeat of the Abbotsford Community Services’ (ACS) proposal for supportive housing for homeless men, Coun. Henry Braun is concerned by allegations that the process was flawed.

The location of the project, which was announced in June 2013, was strongly opposed by the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ABDA) and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, and was ultimately defeated by a tie vote at council on Feb. 17.

Following the meeting, Mayor Bruce Banman said he voted against the proposal because the process was flawed due to a lack of neighbourhood consultation.

“The process itself had a major flaw from early on. There is no doubt that the need (for housing) exists; however, the very neighbourhood that they wanted to place this in was never consulted until after the decision and the drawings and the designs had been made.”

Though the city had been aware of the proposed site for years and helped select ACS as the proponent and its location for low-barrier housing, Banman said that decision was made before he was sitting on council as mayor.

“It’s been my experience here that the good developers, the wise developers, deal with issues with the neighbourhood that they want to put a development in long before they ever actually come to council… Those particular developments are usually embraced at the end of the day by the community.”

But Coun. Henry Braun, who also was not on council when the project was first brought forward, said he disagrees that the process was flawed. He said the city had been intricately involved in the proposal and followed the same process as it did for the Christine Lamb Residence and the George Schmidt Centre – the first two projects in the city’s memorandum of understanding with BC Housing to build supportive housing in Abbotsford.

“Nobody could talk about this until ACS was released from the confidentiality agreements, which included the city. But that’s no different than the other two projects.”

Braun said the city had already chosen the ACS site and agreed to give the agency a piece of road necessary to build on if the project was approved. Braun said that if council was not interested in the project, it should have rejected it when that decision was made two years ago.

“On principle, every council member should have voted for this...” He added that “to lead community services and BC Housing down a road, making them think that zoning wasn’t an issue … in business, you could get sued for doing stuff like this.”

With opposition to the project, the city, ACS and the ADBA explored other locations for the proposal.

Braun said that included city land at Gladys Avenue and Pine Street, but that project and the other suggestions were not feasible.

Nadine Power, director of operations at ACS, said they and BC Housing considered alternate sites, but because of the increased distance from ACS headquarters, any other location would cost an extra $145,000 per year in staffing, security and overhead. BC Housing could not commit the extra funds and the city did not offer to cover any additional costs.

Power, in reference to comments that the process was not followed, said that “it is the identical process that Abbotsford went through with BC Housing for Christine Lamb and George Schmidt.”

Coun. Bill MacGregor, who voted against the proposal, raised the possibility at the council meeting of building supportive housing on the former MSA Hospital lands on McCallum Road, after Fraser Health announced plans to build a seniors’ complex care facility there.

But Power said it is a “premature, speculative site,” and Fraser Health is years away from developing there.

Braun said he would be shocked if Fraser Health would offer the land for the project, and whether the BC Housing funding – totaling more than $15 million over 60 years – would still be available. He said he did “his homework. I was told if we turn this down, the money is gone… We’ll go to the back of the line.”

BC Housing expressed disappointment with Abbotsford’s denial of the project, stating that they “only partner with communities that support housing projects,” a comment which Braun said is “very telling.”

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