Comment: Housing policy dumps on Burnside Gorge

The residents of Burnside Gorge are fed up with city hall and Cool Aid taking the easy path, and consolidating the bulk of their affordable and supportive housing projects in one or two neighbourhoods.

The city of Victoria’s website says: “Victoria is a city of neighbourhoods, each with distinctive character and charm.” Burnside Gorge is one of 13 neighbourhoods in Victoria. As one of 13, we should certainly carry our fair share of these projects. Mathematically, that would be 7.7 per cent. Round up and make it an even 10 per cent. That would be reasonable.

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What is not reasonable is expecting Burnside Gorge to absorb 77 per cent of all of Victoria’s affordable housing and 36 per cent of all its supportive housing. Did someone miss the decimal point in the 7.7 per cent?

How much supportive housing has been incorporated into Fernwood or Fairfield or James Bay or Rockland, where “gentle density” is the norm? Currently, downtown is home to five of Cool Aid’s supportive-housing projects. How well is that concentration of projects working?

In July, a friend and co-worker was randomly attacked outside our downtown workplace — no provocation, just someone with serious mental-health and addictions issues going off the rails, stripping his clothes off and attacking strangers. It has been months now, and my co-worker is still off work, dealing with rehabilitation for broken bones, injuries to his face and jaw that misaligned his teeth and a severe concussion.

No one should have to go through that. A law-abiding citizen has been disabled because whatever “supports” might have been in place for his assailant weren’t enough to keep him from getting stoned and becoming violent.

Closer to home, my husband recently found himself picking up a half-dozen used needles that were strewn around the parking lot in front of our Burnside Gorge Tim Hortons by someone with their own addiction issues. That shouldn’t be something he has to do, but as a good neighbour and citizen, he was concerned a small child or someone’s pet could be injured by the wanton disregard for public safety shown by the individual who obviously thought the streets of our neighbourhood were an appropriate place to dispose of used syringes.

On several occasions, my husband has chased trespassers out of our yard, where they were eyeing our bike rack, located behind our house. On one occasion, a valuable set of tools was stolen, also from behind our house, when he left his workstation to go inside for a moment. This is the neighbourhood created by concentrating social problems, literally, in our back yard.

I don’t want to be the next victim of random violence, because city hall and Cool Aid choose to concentrate large groups of people with mental-health and addictions issues in our neighbourhood without proper supervision. I want to feel safe coming home at night, or in the daytime.

We understand that it is cheaper and easier for Cool Aid to convert former motels into affordable housing units than to build in other neighbourhoods. But just because it is easy and cheap doesn’t make it right. What is it going to take before city hall and Cool Aid recognize that concentrating social problems in one or two neighbourhoods is not working?

Families, seniors and working people live in Burnside Gorge, all of whom want to feel safe and secure in our neighbourhood. We cannot do that under the never-ending onslaught of low-barrier housing projects that use Burnside Gorge as the go-to solution to the housing crisis by increasing the size of an existing and reasonably sized supportive housing project to unsustainable dimensions that exceed our neighbourhood plan. Not to mention, the project has inadequate parking, which would lead to further congestion of the already limited street parking.

Downtown and Burnside Gorge are already home to an unfairly large share of Victoria’s affordable and supportive housing projects. Until all of Victoria’s other neighbourhoods have their fair share of affordable and supportive housing, stop concentrating Victoria’s hard-to-house tenants in Burnside Gorge. Until every one of Victoria’s other neighbourhoods carries their fair share of projects, place a moratorium on all non-market projects proposed in Burnside Gorge, including the current one for 210 Gorge Rd. East.

It isn’t fair, it isn’t sustainable, and it isn’t consistent with our neighbourhood plan. Unless, of course, I missed the part that talks about the ghettoization of Burnside Gorge as being the city’s vision for our neighbourhood’s “distinctive character and charm.”

The mayor and most councillors, under pressure from Burnside Gorge residents attending the Oct. 4 council meeting, sent the project back to staff to reduce the size to comply with the neighbourhood plan and Housing First’s resident mix. Coun. Ben Isitt (the lone holdout) pushed to approve an unacceptable project as is, rejecting residents’ legitimate concerns in favour of housing for the homeless, regardless of its impacts on the already overburdened community. Where’s the project in your neighbourhood, Councillor Isitt?

Darcy Houston lives in Burnside Gorge.

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