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Canada Maple Ridge seeks support in battle with B.C. government over homeless strategy

A B.C. mayor at odds with the province over housing policies is calling on other local governments for support, saying the government’s actions undermine municipal authority over housing and land use.

Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden has written to members of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM), an umbrella group for local governments, asking them to express their concerns about what he sees as the province forcing a housing project onto his community.

In March, after dismissing a city housing plan as inadequate, the B.C. government said it would build a supportive housing project on provincial property in Maple Ridge over the city’s objections.

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Mr. Morden did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Monday. The agenda for an April 16 Penticton council meeting says Maple Ridge “has sent correspondence to UBCM member municipalities outlining the recent actions taken by the province that undermine the authority granted to municipal governments.”

Penticton passed a motion in support, and other municipalities are expected to consider the request in coming weeks.

Mr. Morden, who recently came under fire for suggesting in a video interview that homeless people were “raping and pillaging” his community, is fighting provincial plans to built 51 supportive-housing units on provincially owned land in Maple Ridge.

The provincial agency B.C. Housing defines supportive housing as subsidized living space with on-site supports. In general, residents are not required to abstain from drugs or alcohol or be in treatment programs. Mr. Morden and other opponents say that type of arrangement does not meet community needs in Maple Ridge, and will do little to help people with mental illness or drug addiction.

Provincial Housing Minister Selina Robinson says the housing will fill an urgent need, including providing homes to people who have been living in a tent city in Maple Ridge.

In a statement on Monday, Ms. Robinson said the province always prefers “to work collaboratively with local governments, including the City of Maple Ridge,” but was compelled to move ahead when the city took steps to evacuate the homeless encampment in March.

Parksville Mayor Ed Mayne said he had not yet seen the correspondence from Maple Ridge, but that he and his council would likely approve a resolution to support Mr. Morden’s request.

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A supportive-housing project is under construction in Parksville, a Vancouver Island city of about 12,500. Residents there have raised concerns about potential increases in drug-related crime.

Mr. Mayne and other newcomers on the Parksville council took office after a campaign that revolved largely around the housing project.

“They [the provincial government] need to know that we are just not going to be stepped on,” Mr. Mayne said.

“They need to know we are going to fight – even if we can’t win it, we need to fight so that the population knows it,” he added.

Ms. Robinson said leadership shown by mayors and councils in 22 communities has helped the province move ahead on more than 2,000 modular homes.

One of those communities is Smithers, where a 24-unit project opened in January.

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Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach said he supported the province’s approach to housing, and that most residents do, too.

“By and large, people are aware that these issues exist in our community, and if we are not providing housing, those challenging issues are going to become worse,” Mr. Bachrach said.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart was not immediately available.

Vancouver has welcomed modular housing, with 600 units built since 2017, when the province announced plans to for 2,000 modular units throughout the province over two years, and has requested funds from the province and federal governments to build 600 more.

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