British Columbia

Issues of housing affordability, homelessness and a botched park development dominate Penticton election

The lack of affordable housing, homelessness and outgoing city council's handling of a plan to develop part of a popular lake park are issues top of mind for voters in Penticton as they prepare to head to the polls on Oct. 20.

Pentitcton voters will choose from 6 candidates for mayor and 24 candidates for city council

Penticton panhandler Paul Braun thinks whoever is elected to city council should come down and talk with people living on the streets if they really want to understand the issue of homelessness and lack of housing (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Voters heading to the polls in Penticton B.C., will be faced with a ballot full of candidates as six people, including incumbent Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, are running for mayor, and two dozen candidates are seeking a seat on city council.

Issues in this election cycle range from problems familiar to many communities in B.C, — a lack of affordable housing and homelessness, to one unique to the city of Penticton — outgoing city council's handling of a botched park development project that drew intense criticism from many residents.

With a vacancy rate of less than one per cent, the touristy city at the south end of Okanagan Lake can be a tough place for working families to settle into and live, according to outgoing Coun. Andre Martin.

"Even if both of the spouses have a job, it's still very expensive for people to live here, so that is definitely an issue," Martin said.

"Where council can have some influence is certainly on the lower income [housing units] and that's in terms of giving up some of the city land."

Lisa Martin at a picturesque section of Skaha Lake Park, which Penciton city council wanted to replace with a waterslide development in 2015. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

It's people on the margins of society who face the biggest challenge getting into stable housing, said Linda Sankey, executive director of the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society — an organization with a long list of people in need of supportive housing.

"I think it will really be on a lot of voters minds," she said.

"The need for housing that is affordable is really great and the available stock of housing is really limited."

Paul Braun, who panhandles to buy food, thinks whoever is elected to city council should come and talk to people living on the streets if they want to understand the issues of homelessness and housing.

"They don't have the slightest clue on what it's like," he said.

"Come live out on the street with us where it is cold, with nothing in your pocket and nobody taking care of you."

"Parks matter here"

The other issue on the minds of Pentictonites is a situation that played out three years ago when city council tried to push through a waterslide development project that would have carved up 20 percent of a picturesque city park on Skaha Lake.

"It was frustrating. At that time, the mayor and the council were saying, 'this is just a vocal minority and these people don't know the facts,'" said Lisa Martin, a spokesperson for the Penticton Parks Society, which organized a vocal opposition to the project.

Linda Sankey of the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society holds a list of election questions for Penticton candidates focused on affordable housing she hopes are asked at the many election debates leading up to the municipal election. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

The city eventually scrapped the plan but at a cost of $200,000 — money paid to the developer to break the contract.

This issue is still top of mind for many people leading up to the election, said Martin.

"I think what we have done is make council know that parks matter here," she said.

"So you almost ignore it at your peril."

About the Author

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan

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