The City of Maple Ridge says it has come up with a “new approach” to housing and social services in its community, but B.C.'s housing minister says it is unworkable and the city knows that.
Selina Robinson, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said on Wednesday the province will be building a temporary housing complex “on an expedited basis."
Ms. Robinson had previously ordered the city, east of Vancouver, to come up with a plan by this week to address a lack of housing. A tent city set up nearly two years ago raised public-safety concerns and was temporarily closed earlier this month.
The city presented its new plan Tuesday night at council. It included requiring an unspecified number of additional modular housing units to be added to a project the province set up last year. The units would be “specifically allocated to the verified occupants of the [tent camp] to see the camp come to an end.”
But in a statement late Tuesday, Ms. Robinson said the city “brought forward a proposal that they knew was not workable” and that city staff had been told the site in question couldn’t accommodate any more units because of physical restrictions and the slope of the site.
“We have tried and would prefer to work collaboratively with the City," Ms. Robinson said. "However, as the City has not identified a workable solution, we need to move forward with building temporary supportive housing on an expedited basis to get the camp closed down.”
The tension comes as the provincial NDP government is implementing a housing plan that it hopes will help tackle rising rates of homelessness in much of the province, including Metro Vancouver.
Last week, in the wake of a fire-safety order issued after several recent blazes at the Maple Ridge camp, Ms. Robinson ordered Maple Ridge to come up with a social housing strategy, saying months of negotiations between the province and the city had not come up with adequate plans to help people living in the tent city and others who were trying to find affordable housing in the community.
Through a spokesman on Wednesday, Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden declined an interview request.
In city statements and council meetings, Mr. Morden has repeatedly said he and council want to work with the province to come up with solutions.
The camp, which supporters call Anita Place, opened in May, 2017, as a protest against the lack of affordable housing in the city.
In February, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted an injunction that allowed the city to address fire-safety issues at the camp, including the use of propane tanks for heating in the tents. Pivot Legal Society, which has represented tent camp residents in court, sought leave to appeal that decision, but the application was denied on Tuesday, Pivot lawyer Caitlin Shane said.
In a council meeting on Feb. 26, Mr. Morden said “close to 100” propane tanks were removed from the site over a couple of days.
On March 1, the provincial fire commissioner issued an evacuation order for the camp, after the city fire department said it had responded to three fires within 72 hours at the camp. That order ended March 11, allowing people to return under conditions that included confirming their identity to city officials.
The identification process has been flawed, Ms. Shane said on Wednesday, citing concerns including lengthy line-ups to provide identification and bad weather that resulted in some people leaving the site without being added to city records. “That count cannot be viewed as an accurate picture of how many people are living at the camp, much less a picture of homelessness in Maple Ridge," she said.
A city spokesman said the city did not yet have a verified number of people at the camp.