Westward Independent

Cowichan Valley’s Housing Crisis: A Study in Contradiction and Call to Action

by Westward Independent
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Desperate Voices in a Mounting Crisis

Public input is needed to help address bylaw issues with temporary homes, RV’s, and tiny homes.

COWICHAN VALLEY, April 17, 2024 — “There’s nowhere to go and I don’t know what to do.” With these wrenching words spoken at the recent Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) Electoral Area Services Committee meeting, Steven Disher vividly captured the acute housing crisis impacting many residents. His stark declaration from a community member facing eviction from his tiny home starkly highlights the growing disconnect between the residents’ needs and governmental actions.

A Stark Contrast in Governmental Policies

This crisis is painfully exacerbated by a glaring contradiction in governmental policies. While local authorities champion the ‘safe supply’ strategy for drug users—creating a safer environment for them under the philosophy that the alternative (unsupervised drug use) is worse—they simultaneously enforce stringent bylaws that undermine those in precarious housing situations. This approach reflects a troubling hypocrisy: ensuring safety for drug users while neglecting the basic shelter needs of residents.

Director Mike Wilson reflected a sense of helplessness shared by many, stating poignantly, “I find very moving the statement ‘there’s nowhere to go and I don’t know what to do.’ And this is something that resonates with me.” Yet, the actions—or lack thereof—from the CVRD suggest a baffling inconsistency in handling life-critical issues.

Director Alison Nicholson appeared to skirt the core issue, focusing instead on procedural concerns: “Temporary use permits come to mind. Also, I’m not clear on whether it is possible to just ensure that buildings like tiny homes and RVs are safe and from my perspective that’s the most important thing, that we’re not damaging the environment and that people are actually safe in them.” This stance subtly redirects the conversation from the urgent need for shelter to environmental and safety regulations—raising the question, how does evicting someone enhance their safety or protect the environment more than providing them a place to stay, even if not up to the ideal code? Her comments reflect a disconnect, prioritizing regulatory compliance over the immediate housing needs of residents.

Cynical Observations on Governmental Priorities

The CVRD’s approach can be seen as a cynical nod to bureaucratic comfort zones—meticulously policing minor bylaw infractions while arguably more significant societal issues, such as homelessness, intensify. Director Jesse McClinton added another layer to the discussion, pondering the nature of complaints that lead to enforcement actions, “I just think it might be interesting, is there any sort of thought given to one person maybe making multiple complaints?” This question underscores the potential for misuse of the complaint-driven enforcement process, further alienating those in non-conventional living situations.

Rob Harris, the Manager of Bylaw Enforcement, touched on the intricacies of the current complaint system, stating, “We have a policy that’s available online right now for the public to review. It talks about the CVRD’s right to refuse certain complaints depending on what the nature may be or how they come in.” His remarks hint at a potentially divisive policy underpinning a surveillance-like state where anonymity in reporting can shield accusers, fostering a community atmosphere akin to the COVID-19 era when neighbourly surveillance was encouraged. This system raises concerns about a societal shift towards incentivizing residents to monitor each other, a move away from compassion and towards a more policed, impersonal community dynamic. Harris’s neutrality does little to mitigate the image of a government keen on having citizens police each other rather than fostering mutual support and understanding among them.

A Call for Community Engagement and Policy Change

Ann Kjerulf, General Manager of Land Use Services, signaled an upcoming opportunity for public involvement, “Staff weren’t prepared to have a policy discussion today, but there is an intent to bring forward the Bylaw policy for discussion at ESC in May.” This announcement opens a window for residents to influence a potentially more humane approach to housing policy.

The stark disparity between the handling of drug safety and housing safety in Cowichan Valley underscores a broader need for policy coherence and humanity. The upcoming discussions offer a chance to rectify these inconsistencies. As the valley grapples with these critical issues, the voices of its residents, echoing Steven Disher’s desperate plea, will be instrumental in shaping a fair and humane approach to housing in the region. The challenge lies not just in crafting policy, but in aligning it with the community’s most pressing needs—and ensuring that local governance prioritizes human welfare over bureaucratic convenience.

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