Low-income housing concerns raised as City of Vancouver passes 10-year housing and homelessness strategy

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Concerns about Vancouver’s affordable housing supply dominated a public meeting at city hall today, as councillors voted to pass a 10-year housing and homelessness strategy.

The city’s 10-year plan includes a target of 38,900 new housing units over 10 years, including a mix of social housing, market rental and affordable home ownership.

The strategies to achieve the goals include a contribution from the city of $42.4 million in land and capital grants to fund 1,150 new units of non-market housing, expanding the zones and housing types that allow for secondary suites and laneway housing to be built, expanding shelter services for underserved homeless groups, and creating a rent bank.

Mayor Gregor Robertson called the plan “the most ambitious housing and homelessness strategy in Vancouver’s history”.

But before all councillors except Suzanne Anton voted in favour of the plan, they heard comments from over a dozen housing providers, Downtown Eastside residents and advocates, many of whom expressed concerns about preserving and expanding low-income housing in the city.

Thom Armstrong of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. urged council to consider the state of the existing housing stock as much as creating a new supply.

“We’re going to painstakingly roll this carpet out in front of us around the new supply problem, but if we’re not tacking it down securely as we go, it’s going to roll up behind us,” he said. “If we let it, there will be no net gain. We’ll lose a unit for every unit that we generate.”

Armstrong also warned council that federal subsidies slated to expire between now and the year 2020 could impact many of the city’s co-op housing residents.

“The disappearance of the federal subsidies is going to potentially have a dramatic impact on the demographic mix in co-ops unless there are successor subsidy programs,” he told council. “The federal government has made it crystal clear that it’s out of the game. So our focus is going to be probably on the provincial government.”

He urged the city to formally commit to a policy to support existing co-ops and facilitate the development of new co-ops as part of a non-market rental strategy.

Margaret Eberle, acting research director of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, said her organization estimates that about 70 percent of non-profit housing societies will have their operating agreements expire by the year 2030.

“We’re just starting to see the impacts of this,” she said, noting that a response to the expiring operating agreements is to raise rents.

“I guess the non-profits are really at the mercy of the federal [and] provincial governments, who have sort of decided to walk away from this long-term problem,” she claimed.

According to Stephen Gray of the First United Church social housing society, existing affordable housing units in the city could be affected much sooner.

“The 156 units that we are operating in the Downtown Eastside and have been for over 25 years are right now at a crisis, where we can’t continue to operate those past September,” he said.

Gray said the society has exhausted all its reserves, and is predicting a “significant operating deficit” going forward. The mortgage on the two buildings is up in the fall.

He noted that about 60 percent of the building’s tenants are on some form of income assistance, while 25 percent are old-age pensioners. He’s concerned that if B.C. Housing takes over the units, there could be some evictions under less adaptive policies, and that as some units become vacant, the rents could spike.

“The faster they can empty out units, the faster they can increase rents,” he told the Straight in an interview.

“I don’t think B.C. housing wants to do this,” he added. “It’s just a really crappy situation.”

City manager Penny Ballem said the city is “opening up a dialogue” with senior governments about the buildings.

“The problem is now out there, and there’s no ready solution,” she told council. “It’s an issue that all of us need to get ahead of. In the meantime, as these crises emerge”¦ we need to open up the dialogue.”

Wendy Pedersen, organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), urged the city to lobby senior governments “fiercely” for a national housing strategy. The call for such a strategy was echoed by several speakers.

CCAP wants to see the city purchase at least 10 lots for low-income housing in the Downtown Eastside, so the SRO hotels can be replaced in less than 40 or 50 years. Pedersen also called on council to create a definition of both low-income and social housing.

Gregory Miller, who has stayed at both a Vancouver homeless shelter and at the Wonder Rooms hotel in the Downtown Eastside, said he’d like to see more services to help people like him find suitable accommodation.

He said his living conditions at the SRO included dealing with rats and bedbugs.

“People are sent to live in these places like that, and sometimes they’re better off on the streets,” he said. “Something needs to be done.”

Ric Matthews of the First United Church shelter argued that simply maintaining a certain number of housing units in the city isn’t sufficient, but that there’s a need to ensure the units remain affordable.

“If those rooms are not affordable or there are social contexts that make it undesirable to stay there and people begin to feel unwelcome and they leave, then in fact we are eroding stock even though we can mathematically check the box and say the box is maintained,” he told council.

“We have to think very carefully and we need to have a very detailed strategy around how we not only protect the actual building and the rooms but how we ensure they are in fact connecting with a sliding level of affordability.”

Coalition of Progressive Electors councillors David Cadman and Ellen Woodsworth passed two amendments to the plan, to specify that the city look at inclusionary zoning, a city-run housing authority, and increase funding for land purchases.

“This is a shameful situation, that a country as wealthy as Canada is having the kind of circumstances that we have people living in here,” said Cadman.

Woodsworth also called on the mayor to “take a leadership role” on a national housing campaign.

An annual “report card” on the housing and homelessness strategy will be presented to council, and city staff said they will be coming back with more detailed plans related to actions identified in the 10-year strategy.

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Standing Water BA LLD MBA BBQ WTF

Jul 28, 2011 at 6:51pm

One issue that needs to be looked at is how many of those claiming "social housing" in Vancouver have their births registered in VANCOUVER.

How is it fair for someone from Ottawa, or from Prince George, to have a claim to housing when there are plenty of people born in VANCOUVER who cannot secure appropriate housing? And we're talking bachelor/single bedroom place within the city limit for a student---not even dreaming of raising a _family_.

Is Vancouver going to be turned into a socialist heckhole for the ultra-rich as well as a few assorted poors from across Canada, to whom the ultra-rich toss social housing bones, all while ignoring their own domestic poor?

I would _really like_ a survey of the DTES people---how many were born in Vancouver, how many floated here down the Fraser, how many floated from further?

asdfe

Jul 28, 2011 at 7:40pm

It doesn't make sense to build affordable condos for the rich when the poor are still out side.

To be able to buy a condo in Vancouver you had to have been born rich. We're not taxing the rich enough when everybody else can't afford a place to live, or has to pay half their income for shelter.

james green

Jul 28, 2011 at 8:59pm

A plan without revenues ( taxes), expenses (costs) is like a movie without a script.
When are people going to wake up to the incompetence of this mayor and council.
I beg you your worship, put the numbers on the table if in fact your manager has done her job properly and projected the numbers.
You and the council in a business sense are the board of directors of this city and the taxpayers are the shareholders and they deserve to know how much your lofty plans will cost them and how your lofty plans will impact them fiscally and in all other ways.
Without this your housing and greenest city plans are merely for political reasons for the election to give voters the sense that you are doing something. We do not need another financial fiasco.

rr

Jul 28, 2011 at 9:52pm

I applaud the mayor's ambitious goals. Given the rate of population increase it is of utmost importance that we be proactive on the housing (not to mention) transit front. In doing, every financial demographic need be considered. I sympathize with the situation many in the DTES find themselves in HOWEVER a ghetto, such as the DTES does not in any provide any positive benefit except for those whose livelihood is earned throguh exploitation of the those living on the streets of the DTES. Let's continue to push for development and continue to push for the inclusion of subsidized housing incorporated in the these developments. Not only in the DTES, but in Yaletown, Fairview the Cambie corridor and everywhere where dense housing developments are being considered. As far as the claim that 'only the rich can afford to buy a house in Vancouver'....i shudder when i hear such frivolous commentary. We are blessed to be in a country where children from single parent immigrant households, through hard work, dedication and a refusal to accept the sense of entitlement that pervades so many can obtain a first rate education, and a rewarding profession. And yes, this does lead to the ability to buy a very comfortable place in the heart of Vancouver

@ Gregor

Jul 28, 2011 at 10:51pm

If you provide social housing you are going to open the flood gates for every deadbeat in Canada to loaf it in Metro Vancouver. They'll do nothing and take transit to make it over crowded for working individuals who pay for it.

Think hard Gregor. You are too naive and no amount of social assistance is ever going to be enough.

If deadbeats can't afford $1,000 for rent here, they don't have to live here. Live in Saskatoon. I hear they need workers. If deadbeats don't want to work, fuck-em.

Dread Nugent

Jul 29, 2011 at 6:41am

They should do social housing ..and lots of it ... it should be done by the province tho ...cuz land is cheaper the farther you get away from downtown Vancouver ... dismantle the drug ghetto.. move em all on.. enough of this gongshow ... move them all to the rural areas... most don't work so they don't need to be in Vancouver anyway... living in the city is a privilege .. it always has been.

Rick in Richmond

Jul 29, 2011 at 12:28pm

Those of us who live in the burbs are grateful as hell that Vancouver keeps building social housing. It means we don't have to. Your taxes go up. Ours stay the same.

The poverty advocates want Vancouver to build free social housing for everybody. It's a bad deal for Vancouver taxpayers, but a great deal for the rest of us.

It's amazing that Vision don't care what "all social housing, all the time" actually costs their own taxpayers. Vision poloticians aren't exactly seeing 20-20.

Thanks, Vancouver, for being so willing to spend your tax money on social housing, without any end in sight. It means the rest of us don't have to.

The politics of the DTES ghetto work both ways.

james green

Jul 29, 2011 at 1:05pm

Get it straight please. The Vancouver council under Vision and Robertson have not built one unit of housing for the homeless or of social housing in their almost 3 years in office. They talk, they study, they spin but they do not build.
They have opened shelters and warehoused people, period.

Morty

Jul 29, 2011 at 1:52pm

If Suzanne Anton voted against this, does this mean she'll try to take credit for it within the next few days? She's repeatedly come out against things of which she voted in favour, so it would seem to make sense”¦

james green

Jul 29, 2011 at 4:29pm

The solution to out of province people receiving Vancouver benefits needs a national agreement between province.
The solution is we bill their province for services we supply.
A premiers conference needs to fine tune a billing program in this regard.

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