On the front page of last week’s edition of the Advance we celebrated a good thing for our community, the announcement that a six-unit housing complex is about to be built to provide low-cost rental housing for families. In the photo on that page are the usual suspects — our mayor, our member of Parliament, representatives of groups who have made a large contribution in bringing the project to the construction stage. Absent from that photo is our member of the legislative assembly.
In the week prior to the formal public announcement, I was informed the ceremony would be taking place and provided a list of people who would be in attendance for the photo opportunity. When I asked BC Housing for more information about the project so we could help spread the word and perhaps encourage other members of the public to attend the event, I was told that no information would be available beforehand. Not even a mention of how many living units would be built. There have been too many “problems” arising from the early release of information in other communities so BC Housing no longer does that, I learned. Oh, and would we be so kind as to send their media folks a copy of anything we intended to print from what meagre information we had, presumably so they could make sure we weren’t spilling the beans by using information from local sources? Uh, no.
When I noticed the absence of Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall on the list of invited dignitaries I contacted her to see whether she had been invited. No, she said. Opposition MLAs are typically shut out of these photo ops, which are treated by this government as public relations opportunities for members of the governing party. The fact that some constituencies are not represented on the government side of the legislature is a minor inconvenience. In our case, Kootenay East MLA and Minister of Pretty Much Everything Bill Bennett (or Premier Bill, as I have come to call him) would be on hand. (He didn’t attend, being busy with the mine tailings pond disaster in northern B.C. In his place at the podium and the group photo was his constituency assistant from Cranbrook.)
Mungall admitted she does find being excluded from announcements that affect members of the constituents she was elected to represent insulting. But we have to pick our battles, she added, so opposition MLAs don’t typically crash the parties or make a big issue out of their exclusion. Let’s just admit this is a government with very little class, and move on, I suppose.
My annoyance with BC Housing has been building in the last few years, ever since it oversaw construction of a larger housing project, this one south of the railroad tracks and Cook Street. In its infinite wisdom, it then turned over management of the complex to a non-profit organization based in Cranbrook, apparently because Creston has no one capable of taking on the job. So whatever profits are to be made from managing the facility go to benefit people in the Cranbrook area, and our local residents live in a place where the management people are not our friends and neighbours, but strangers who have no direct commitment to our community.
It all got a little ridiculous earlier this year when residents in these units built with public funds were informed that some were breaking rules. The management organization has rules for everything it seems, including a restriction on the number of chairs residents can have on their postage stamp-sized patios. It’s an easy number to monitor: one. Yup, one. Apparently people who qualify for subsidized rental aren’t entitled to have a few friends over to sit out on their patio. Or at least to sit on chairs on the patio. The rules might not preclude visitors from sitting on the ground, I suppose.
I am aware of a number of complaints some residents have about the care and maintenance of the grounds around the complex, and it seems like this becomes an out of sight, out of mind issue for managers who live an hour’s drive away from here. The folks who live in those units qualify for rental subsidies based on their own personal economic circumstances. But the fact that they qualify doesn’t mean they should be treated like second-class citizens. They are our friends and neighbours and they deserve better.
And better, nice people at BC Housing, would mean having property managers who actually live in our community.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.