Many councillors in North Cowichan want the municipality to talk to John Horn, executive director with the Cowichan Housing Association (pictured), and other association members before making any decisions regarding the hiring of a new senior social and housing planner. (File photo)

Social housing planner position back before North Cowichan council

Staff present report on implications of not hiring a new senior social and housing planner

The question of whether North Cowichan should hire a new senior social and housing planner is still up in the air.

At a special budget meeting on Feb. 11, council discussed and debated the merits of the position and ultimately decided not to fund it in the budget for 2020.

Council did decide at the meeting to hire a procurement coordinator, an assistant fire chief and a new office manager for the RCMP, at a total cost of $279,500 per year.

RELATED STORY: NORTH COWICHAN TO CREATE THREE NEW POSITIONS IN 2020

But at the council meeting on Feb. 19, Rob Conway, the municipality’s director of planning and building, presented a report outlining the implications of not filling the senior social and housing planner position, which would cost $120,000 per year in wages and benefits.

“The municipality presently does not have dedicated staff for housing and social planning issues or for advancing council’s housing and social planning agenda,” Conway said.

“Current resources do not afford any additional capacity for expanding the level of service for housing and social planning issues without reducing service levels elsewhere.”

To see Conway’s full report, go to pages 68-72 of council’s agenda for Feb. 19

The senior social and housing planner position was intended to help achieve council’s strategic plan priorities in regards to affordable housing, and provide more input into helping manage the ongoing opioid crisis in the Valley.

RELATED STORY: NORTH COWICHAN CONSIDERS FIVE NEW POSITIONS IN ITS BUDGET FOR 2020

But with the challenges of providing social housing also being overseen by other jurisdictions in the Valley, including the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Cowichan Housing Association and Social Planning Cowichan, many councillors felt at the meeting on Feb. 11 that it would be better to confer with them first before making any decisions.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Al Siebring pointed out that North Cowichan pays more than $266,000 a year to help fund the Cowichan Housing Association and Social Planning Cowichan.

“That should provide us with a pretty good service,” he said.

“I agree that we need to do something, but I’m not convinced that [hiring a new senior social and housing planner] is the best thing to do. I’d like to talk to the CHA and SPC to listen to their views but, until then, I can’t support the hiring of the new position.”

RELATED STORY: CVRD PROPOSES NEW TAX TO ASSIST WITH AFFORDABLE HOUSING

But Coun. Kate Marsh said filling the position would support many goals North Cowichan staff and the community are trying to achieve.

“The longer we wait, it will be harder for some marginalized people in the community to get a hand up,” she said.

“Funding [for our strategic priorities] will also become increasingly hard to come by. If we have decided to make something a priority, why not fund it?”

Coun. Christopher Justice agreed, stating that council is cutting some of its own strategic priorities around housing and the opioid crisis by not supporting the position.

Coun. Rosalie Sawrie, who is also a project director with Social Planning Cowichan, acknowledged that North Cowichan does contribute to SPC’s budget, but the organization’s mandate is to look at issues regionally, as opposed to specific issues within North Cowichan.

“SPC has a wider lens than this municipality,” she said.

Coun. Rob Douglas said CHA’s executive director John Horn had indicated that he would work with North Cowichan to identify possible areas in which the association can assist North Cowichan.

RELATED STORY: COWICHAN VALLEY REGIONAL DISTRICT’S AFFORDABLE-HOUSING STRATEGY MOVES FORWARD

“We should do that ground work first to determine if the position is needed,” he said.

“I’m not saying we should close the door on it completely, but just that the groundwork should be done first before any decisions are made.”

Coun. Tek Manhas said he also thinks filling the position should be put on hold for the time being until discussions are held with the CHA and SPC.

Coun. Debra Toporowski said downloading the responsibilities of social housing and the opioid crisis from senior levels of government to local governments has been going on for a long time, and filling the position would provide council with invaluable information and planning strategies.

Coun. Debra Toporowski made a motion to bring the position back for reconsideration, but was unable to get a seconder and the motion died.

No final decisions were made regarding the position at the meeting.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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