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