Poverty funding, refugee loans top of mind for Surrey council at UBCM convention

Surrey council wants province to commit funding to local poverty initiatives in absence of provincial strategy, says Hepner

Coun. Judy Villeneuve

VANCOUVER — Surrey city council is zeroing in on poverty funding and the elimination of government-assisted refugee loans at this week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

One of the issues Surrey has tabled at the convention is a resolution calling for a provincial funding program for local poverty reduction initiatives.

“It’s something the UBCM has endorsed,” said Mayor Linda Hepner Tuesday. “Quite frankly, I think we are one of only two provinces that doesn’t have a provincial poverty reduction plan…. In the absence of having that plan, let’s at least have the government administer local grants. That would also encourage municipalities to create their own plan.”

Coun. Judy Villeneuve said Surrey is supporting the resolution pushing for tax incentives for building rental housing, as well as the issue of government-assisted refugees having to pay back transportation loans.

Villeneuve and the city have been vocal in calling for the loans to be axed, saying it cripples newcomers who are overwhelmed by the debt.

From 2010 to 2012, Surrey housed 26 per cent – or 555 – of the province’s government-assisted refugees. Most refugees settle in Whalley, Newton and Guildford and the highest number came from Somalia, followed by Iraq.

“They’re the poorest of the poor,” Villeneuve said, adding that they’re often women and children. “They have no alternative to go back to their countries. Many of them have been living in camps for a long time. The average transportation loan is $10,000 to $15,000. Arriving with that kind of debt is devastating.

“We’ve seen the stories of people. We have the Somalian Women’s Project in Surrey. All of them have struggled with the refugee transportation loan. It’s time to make a change.”

First-term councillors Vera LeFranc, Mike Starchuk and Dave Woods are all attending the event, as is veteran Villeneuve and second-term councillor Bruce Hayne, who is running to be a director.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

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