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Housing task force says Surrey council is ‘whitewashing’ homeless crisis

‘Perhaps there was a misunderstanding on the part of PH2H,’ Coun. Allison Patton said
Council chambers at Surrey’s city hall. (File photo)

The Peninsula Homeless to Housing Task Force has issued a public letter criticizing City of Surrey council for initially rejecting a corporate report on housing and homelessness because it didn’t have a positive spin.

City staff’s revised report on the state of housing and homelessness won council’s vote Jan. 17 after the Safe Surrey Coalition majority found the first report in November did not adequately sing the city’s praises.

Coun. Laurie Guerra said the problem with the first version was that it contained old data.

“It’s old data, it’s data from a time when we weren’t even mayor and council,” she explained.

During the November meeting, Coun. Allison Patton said the report needs “to be a lot more positive and uplifting,” and Mayor Doug McCallum described the report as “so negative.”

RELATED: Council approves replacement report on Surrey’s housing needs

The new report, entitled Surrey Housing Needs Report – Update on City Actions, provides council “with an update on areas where the City plays a key role in addressing housing need in the region,” and what Surrey has done to address these needs.

“This report is fantastic,” Guerra said of the second corporate report, which came before council on Jan. 17. “Let’s be clear, Surrey is doing a fantastic job in comparison with other cities in Metro when it comes to affordable, supportive and rental housing.”

Mayor Doug McCallum called the new report “excellent” as it “captures where Surrey is currently with our growth and so forth.”

PH2H, which is a task force of concerned citizens and groups seeking solutions to homelessness and shelter insecurity in South Surrey and White Rock, accused the city of “downplaying” Surrey’s housing crisis.

“The denial and rejection of the facts and life experiences of its citizens, demonstrated by Mayor and Council, directly contributes to harm in our communities and neighbourhoods,” the PH2H letter states.

“It reinforces the challenging conditions many face as they struggle to live, work, and grow in our community. Saying it in ‘a lot more positive and uplifting’ way and not to be ‘so negative’ on paper, does not change what is happening in Surrey – instead, it whitewashes the crisis and makes our city’s housing situation worse.”

PH2H said it believes the original housing report paints an accurate picture of the housing needs in Surrey, adding that it’s “clear” that the city is not doing what it must to address the issue.

“PH2H calls on the City of Surrey to face the facts and realities of the crisis in housing and shelter insecurity in our city so that the people living here might have their needs and interests served by their elected officials – none of whom, we note, are suffering from shelter insecurity themselves.”

RELATED: Surrey council rejects staff’s ‘negative’ report on city’s housing needs

In response to PH2H’s criticism, Guerra said in an email that she didn’t reject the report but requested staff provide additional, updated statistics as well as some “comparables” to other cities in Metro Vancouver. She said some of the previous data was out of date and not reflective of many projects already finished or underway.

Patton said the consultant company that worked on the report for Surrey is based in Kelowna, and the data in the report was five to 15 years old. The report did not include the city’s modular housing builds and rapid housing response projects, she noted.

“The report has not changed other than our staff is working to add the more up to date data to the report. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding on the part of PH2H,” Patton emailed PAN.

Coun. Linda Annis referred PAN to two press releases she issued, one on Nov. 23, the day after council rejected the first report, and the other on Jan. 17.

“The staff report was intended to give us some benchmarks and show us where we need to improve, but the mayor didn’t like what he heard so he sent it back to staff and didn’t want the details shared with (Union of BC Municipalities) until it was made to look better, somehow,” Annis said in the November release.

In the January release, Annis called for city staff and council to meet with developers and not-for-profits to jointly produce a plan to build more rental accommodation in the city.

Couns. Jack Hundial, Doug Elford, Brenda Locke, Mandeep Nagra and Steven Pettigrew have not yet responded to an emailed request for comment by PAN.

The new report notes that since the introduction of an Affordable Housing Fee in April 2018, $2.06 million has been collected from all new non-rental housing projects and deposited into the City of Surrey’s Affordable Housing Reserve fund. These funds, the report states, will be used to purchase land “or otherwise support” new affordable rental housing projects.

Surrey population is at 614,000 and is expected to reach 714,300 by 2031.

– with files from Tom Zytaruk

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