Why does the so-called “Community” Housing Society seem so secretive?

David F. Rooney

Remember the last municipal election when a certain candidate for Council bleated again and again about “transparency?” Remember City Council’s vows over the last several months that it would  strive to be more open and forthcoming with the public after the way the Grizzly Plaza extension down Mackenzie Avenue was not-so-well-handled?

Sure you do. Given those facts, why does the so-called Revelstoke Community Housing Society seem so secretive?

Directors at what turned out to be an Annual General Meeting Monday they couldn’t legally hold because they didn’t have enough board members actually considered trying to hold a closed meeting. Given the use of the word “community” in the society’s name that would have been interesting. I half-hoped that they would do just that. But common sense prevailed and they allowed me and three members of the public to stay. (Please go here to read about that.)

The society has not seemed to be forthcoming in recent months. A request to interview Society Manager Corin Flood two weeks ago after Council decided to amalgamate property on Maple Street, thereby clearing part of the way for construction of two rental properties there, was denied. Flood had no objection to the interview. However, society directors did not want to see an interview in the media. (This is not unique to The Current, last October The Times Review complained that the society was becoming secretive.)

At Monday’s meeting it was pointed out to the Housing Society board that public concern about the CPR Hill project could have been addressed by an in-depth interview. That prompted a curiously smug Councillor Antoinette Halberstadt to say: “I was one of the ones who stalled because I wanted the questions in advance.” (I say “curiously smug” because Halberstadt was the Council candidate who made “transparency” her mantra) By trying to, as she so coyly put it, “stall” an interview on an issue of major public interest she was actually killing it. Sending a list of questions to a board and and then receiving a set of scripted answers does not constitute an interview.

Some readers might shrug at this. The society gets the questions in advance — so what? This is called information management and it allows a group to then concoct the answers they think will best serve their purposes. I’ll also say this: I have in my career interviewed several federal cabinet ministers and have never once been asked to submit questions in advance. They have asked to know what the subject areas are and that’s fair enough, but they never asked for the actual questions.

The City says it’s serious about improving the way it communicates with the public. If the City is serious about this, then why does one of its creatures — in this case, the Housing Society — seem so uninterested in communicating openly with the local news media and the public?

This society was initiated because housing prices were going sky-high. They appear to have come down somewhat, largely because there is not a lot of action on the local market and rental prices remain high, unless you’re willing to accept living in a single $500 room you found on The Stoke List in a house with five 20-year-olds.

As I recall the original stories I wrote for The Times Review at the time the intent of the society was to help build a stock of affordable single-family homes that would help Revelstoke attract and retain young people with skills and plans, dreams and ambitions who wanted to build a future here. It might also be able to address the decline in affordable rental housing.

Of course, the recession intervened and who knows what else has been going on behind the scenes. But in the last two years little seems to have been accomplished and the board seems to think a policy of silence, perhaps occasionally leavened with some heavily massaged and bluntly managed questions-in-advance-non-interviews, will best serve the public interest.

Is that transparent? No. That is bogus.