Antipoverty advocates question City of Vancouver's plan to reduce poverty

Critics worry that this goal will be achieved by an exodus of the impoverished

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      The City of Vancouver wants to reduce the poverty rate among city residents by 75 percent. The municipal government is aiming to hit that target in 2025 as part of the long-term objectives of the healthy-city strategy it is developing.

      Kerry Jang is the councillor on top of the healthy-city initiative, and he believes that the poverty-reduction mark is attainable. “If you never set a goal to achieve, you’ll never get there,” Jang told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      According to the Vision Vancouver politician, addressing poverty isn’t only about how much one earns but also how far that goes. “What we’re trying to do is, for example, provide more affordable housing,” Jang said.

      Antipoverty advocates aren’t applauding. In a city where council defines affordable market rents to be $1,433 a month for a studio unit, $1,517 for a one-bedroom, and $2,061 for a two-bedroom, Downtown Eastside activist Jean Swanson is scornful.

      “My cynical self thinks that the way they’re going to reduce the poverty rate by 75 percent is by gentrifying the entire city so that poor people can’t afford to live here,” she told the Straight by phone.

      Swanson, until recently the coordinator of the DTES’s Carnegie Community Action Project, continued: “Actually, my cynical self is kind of my real self.”

      The same derision is felt by Wendy Pedersen, also formerly associated with CCAP and now part of a new group called Downtown Eastside United. “I think they’re going to reduce that by pushing the poor people out,” Pedersen told the Straight by phone.

      A fact sheet generated in connection with the healthy-city strategy provides a number of indicators about incomes and inequality in Vancouver. The document notes that incomes in Vancouver are “more polarized than Canada as a whole”.

      “In Vancouver in 2010, 15 per cent of individuals fell into the bottom 10 per cent of Canada’s income distribution, while 14 percent fell into the top 10 per cent,” the paper notes.

      Among the 15 biggest cities across the country, Vancouver has the second-highest percentage of people with low incomes (defined as half of the population’s median income, adjusted for family size). In 2010, its low-income rate was 21 percent. According to the fact sheet, the highest concentration of low-income persons is found in Strathcona, at 48 percent.

      Significant numbers of low-income residents are found everywhere. Oakridge comes second to Strathcona, with 29 percent, and the West End and Arbutus-Ridge are tied for third place at 26 percent. Marpole has 24 percent.

      Sean Antrim is a resident of Strathcona. He’s also the executive director of the Coalition of Progressive Electors. “I wouldn’t be surprised if, the way things are going, there is a 75-percent reduction in poverty in Vancouver,” Antrim told the Straight by phone. “But that’s because people who are living in poverty are leaving the city because they can’t afford to live here.”

      Michael McCarthy Flynn of the Living Wage for Families Campaign (LWFC) suggested Vancouver may want to follow New Westminster’s lead.

      Effective January 1, 2011, New Westminster became the first city in Canada to adopt a living-wage policy that applies not only to its employees, who are now paid more than the LWFC’s suggested living wage, but also to anyone contracted or subcontracted to provide services on city premises and properties.

      In a report released on April 29 this year, the LWFC calculated the hourly wage that two working parents with two young children in Metro Vancouver must earn to meet their basic expenses: $20.10.

      “New Westminster has had it for a few years. Big employers…have done it,” McCarthy Flynn told the Straight by phone. “I think it’s incumbent, and the city has an opportunity to look at what has happened in those places.”

      In its fact sheet, the City of Vancouver notes that reducing poverty by 75 percent isn’t something it can do on its own: “Collaboration between stakeholders across the public, private and non-profit sector is needed to achieve this goal.”


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      May 21, 2014 at 10:57am

      The income divide in Vancouver is so vast that we should accept that the city has been bought by the wealthy. Those people (under the poverty line) who do not participate fully in commercial aspects of the society are being 'pushed' elsewhere. A solution to this would be to 'invite' all low income residents to move to a community that is protected from aggressive capitalism, and supply them with surroundings and living accommodations (homes) that honour their being. This community should be financed by taxing the richest in Vancouver, who have found ways to earn vast profits from the work of others.


      May 21, 2014 at 12:38pm

      Housing affordability is just one part of the equation. When you have empty condos downtown not being pushed into the rental stock, it's hard to argue that more density will decrease housing costs. It hasn't so far.

      Incomes are much lower in Vancouver than other Canadian cities. Due to high costs and restricted space, you see more and more companies sending their headquarters to other cities.

      Taxes are also another problem. Property taxes are pretty high, gas taxes have brought the highest gas prices in Canada, and income taxes are also the highest for a province with large population.

      There's always going to be poverty. The thing that irks most people here is that even those who make above the median income for Canada can barely afford to live here, never mind actually save money.

      Alan Layton

      May 21, 2014 at 12:50pm

      Swanson needs to wander out of the DTES occasionally and perhaps visit other parts of the city. She worries that council's plan is to gentrify other parts of the city to discourage people who clearly cannot afford to live here, from trying to live here! Has she no idea that the city has already gone well beyond the affordability point without gentrification? We blew by that at least 15 years ago. Where the hell has she been?

      As I am many others have pointed out, that trying to house poor people in one the most expensive cities in the world is ludicrous. You're paying way too much for it and given that there is a finite amount of money available and the more they have to spend on one person, the less there will be for others. It's like going to your employer to request a company car, but then demanding that it be a Ferrari - because it would give you more dignity.

      Time to put away these ridiculous pipe dreams and take a huge dose of reality Jean.

      James Green

      May 22, 2014 at 3:49pm

      Another rediculous plank in their platform that has holes in it. They were going to end street homelessness by 2015 and merely have been opening shelters for evening stays which does not end any type of homelessness. To end poverty we would need affordable and social housing, a rise in the minimum wage, increased Canada Pension payments, increasaed social assistance, increased job and skill training, affordable post secondary education, cheaper transit, lower food and rent prices, more good paying jobs,greater more indept studies of the causes of poverty and more. All of these factors Vision and Jang have no control over and these spinners should stick to what they do best and that's selling the city to the highest development bidders who pay Vision's campaing expenses. It is truly time for a new council and mayor. To Layton above, insulting Jean who has spent a great part of her time helping others, is inappropraite and meaningless. In fact Alan, housing the homeless is cheaper then the services the city has to pay for when they are living on the street. Wake up and smell reality Alan.

      to the self entitled

      May 23, 2014 at 12:27pm

      if the city is to expense simply leave and live elsewhere. this have been the case for countless cultures in history and I fail to see how Vancouver is any different. Remember this city was once a backwater logging town.

      Don, having someone else pay for your relocation and lifestyle is nothing more than slavery without the chains. You limit yourself by demanding other take responsibility for you, which intern makes you indebted to them forever.
      in short, if you wish to be free, you can't do it on someone else's dime.