Mayor Mike Morden speaks at a rally against the site for homeless housing on Burnett Street on Saturday. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Maple Ridge looks for support from other cities in spat with Victoria

Council says province is eroding the powers of cities with homeless housing decision

Maple Ridge council is looking for the support of other municipalities in its dispute with Victoria over the government’s decision to locate temporary supportive housing for the homeless on Burnett Street.

The province announced last month it will put 51 temporary supportive modular homes on property the government owns at 11749 Burnett St., to clear Anita Place Tent City.

Maple Ridge council rejected a similar proposal for Burnett St. last spring.

“Whether you agree or not with the government of B.C.’s imposition of the rapid response modular program on Burnett, all people and local governments in B.C. should be very concerned about this erosion of local government autonomy,” Mayor Mike Morden said in social media.

On Tuesday, council authorized Morden to urge every member of the Union of B.C. Municipalities to write the province “in support of the City of Maple Ridge council’s assertion that the Honourable Minister Selina Robinson’s decision undermines the intent of the Local Government Act and the Community Charter …”

Robinson, the municipal affairs minister, decided to move forward on the Burnett location, despite a 10,000-name petition opposing such a project there, after council failed to provide a suitable, alternative one.

“This decision is contrary to the province’s own legislation that defines roles and authority for local governments,” said a report to council on Tuesday.

“Due to the impact of this precedent-setting decision, council firmly believes that member municipalities of the UBCM must be made aware of the potential erosion of their powers to shape their own communities.”

Coun. Ahmed Yousef said the province has twice decided on sites for modular homeless housing in Maple Ridge without the approval of council – the first being the Royal Crescent site, which is already in operation.

“The greater principle is that the provincial government gives communities the authority to manage their own affairs,” he said, noting local governments hear complaints from citizens if roads have potholes or their water is not running. “We’re the front-liners, and we know the community.”

Robinson said, given the emergency situation brought on by the city’s action to move ahead with a temporary camp evacuation and its inaction on housing solutions, the province was compelled to move forward with temporary supportive housing.

”We have tried and would prefer to work collaboratively with the city, as we have with local governments across the province. However, as they did not propose a workable site, and as city staff have also communicated that council has decided not to provide any alternate locations for the housing, we need to move forward on an expedited basis to house the people experiencing homelessness in Maple Ridge, and close down the tent city,” she added.

“We remain willing to work with the city to collaboratively identify a permanent site when they are willing to do so, but we cannot wait any longer to provide these much-needed homes.”

Robinson said the new supportive housing will benefit the entire community.

“We have worked successfully with communities across the province and have a supportive housing model that works – it’s worked to close down tent cities in Surrey, at Sugar Mountain in Vancouver, and in Nanaimo, all where there was an urgent need – and I know it will work in Maple Ridge, too.”

Provincial governments, past and present, have built temporary supportive housing on provincially owned lands without going through the local planning process to respond to municipalities’ need for urgent help, in most cases with the support of the local government. Examples include Victoria, Nanaimo and Kamloops.

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