COLUMN: Smithers can’t afford to wait on low-income housing

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Trevor Hewitt (Thom Barker photo)

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

We’ve all heard that quote, or at least some form of it.

Many of us have even used it ad nauseam, myself included, to the point where it’s been resigned to the status of overstated cliché.

But we shouldn’t.

History does matter and the more you study it the more you realize how the mistakes of our ancestors are often ours as well, albeit in a different context and on different scales.

So when I hear members of council and the public talk about how something should have been done with the LB Warner lot years ago I think: OK, you’re right, but now what?

When you try to justify inertia today based on the inaction of yesterday, you create a perfect recipe for your children to follow tomorrow.

And thus completes the cycle.

I’m not surprised to hear a lot of people upset that remediation costs (estimated around $750,000, but potentially even higher) are much larger than what they would have been 15 years ago.

I’m not surprised to hear homeowners upset that they could be taxed more today based on yesterday’s passivity to a growing problem by their peers.

I am, however, surprised to hear so many people suggest that we just leave the lot as is and wait for some fantastically-ideal opportunity that requires little-to-no remediation costs for the land, is cost-neutral to the taxpayer, will benefit the town as a whole and that is supported by the community at large (spoiler alert: not gonna happen).

Trying to save the taxpayer money is a commendable thing to do, but that doesn’t mean blind opposition to anything that could cost them is objectively right.

Is the lot the perfect spot for low-income housing? No, but it is a spot and we need the housing.

Would it be better for, as Coun. Benson suggested, the province to use land they owned for the development? Yes, it would.

Can we force them to do that? As far as I am aware, no.

Do I wish there were a way that we could get this housing without any cost to the taxpayer. Of course, but there isn’t.

Lastly, would not pursuing this development save the taxpayer money? In the short run, yes, however semantically the answer becomes a lot more complicated when you think about the long-term effects of issues like homelessness and poverty on infrastructure and town resources.

I think Coun. Atrill said it best at council’s April 23 meeting when she mentioned she doesn’t want to see future councillors having this very same conversation after the province decides to raise environmental standards and remediation costs increase accordingly, or after some other unforeseeable variable raises the potential burden on the taxpayer in the future.

Because the LB Warner lot is going to cost us — that isn’t the question.

The question is are we going to pull our socks up and deal with it, or are we going to moan about how councils of days past should have done the same and pass it on to our children to inherit?

Are we going to put a plan in place for the growing senior population (currently 1 in 4 considered low income; 1 in 3 if you look at women) that is expected to double in size over the next 20 years or simply give them our “thoughts and prayers” when we face a massive housing crisis in the decades to come for arguably the most vulnerable segment of our population?

And, most importantly, are we going to signal to our children that the best way to deal with problems is to address them head-on (even if it means tough, awkward and often excessively-long conversations) or pass the buck (no pun intended) onto the next generation.

Because when we justify inaction today on the passivity of yesterday we become the very people we purportedly disapprove of tomorrow.

Again, thus completes the cycle.

Perhaps by November, B.C.’s political landscape will have changed drastically.

Perhaps a new government will no longer offer the incentives council has discussed with regards to subsidized low-income housing.

Perhaps.

But let’s cross that bridge when we come to it, not put walls up around accessing it.

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