Tim Louis: Homelessness and affordable housing—false promises from Vision Vancouver

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      We live in one of the richest cities in the world and in one of the most affluent and wealthiest eras of humankind. There cannot be any excuse for homelessness.

      Vision Vancouver came to power in 2008 on the backs of the homeless—promising to end homelessness by 2015. In his inaugural speech Gregor Robertson said: “I’m told that ending homelessness is an audacious goal. And that’s true. But for someone who’s sleeping under a bridge tonight, 2015 can’t come soon enough.”

      Then in 2011, Vision was re-elected on the backs of the homeless—promising once again to end homelessness.

      Not only did Vision Vancouver fail in its initial promise to end homelessness, it also went to great lengths to conceal its failure by redefining the problem. They were no longer promising to end homelessness. They were now promising to end ‘street homelessness’. By redefining the problem from ‘homelessness’ to ‘street homelessness’, they could appear to fulfill their promise—not with homes, or even housing, but with shelters—and this too often means merely a cot in a room at night, and being ejected at a fixed time every morning with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

      Why did they do this? From COPE’s perspective, the answer is crystal clear—Vision’s goal isn’t to end homelessness, it is to help developers.

      There was a time when all developments over a certain size were required to set aside a minimum of 20 percent of the units for social housing. Under Vision, this requirement has been removed. In addition, as a gift to developers, Vision is waiving the requirement that the developer pay DCLs (development cost levies) when it includes ‘affordable rental housing’. ‘Affordable rental housing’, however, is simply tiny units and exorbitant rates. There is nothing affordable about them.

      The time has come for a new approach at city hall—an approach that no longer puts developers first—an approach that seriously addresses today’s crisis of homelessness and affordable housing.

      As my mentor (and former Vancouver city councillor) Harry Rankin once said, when city hall rezones the land, it turns dirt into gold. Isn’t it time that city council, acting on our behalf, took a piece of some of that gold to build real affordable housing?

      COPE is the only municipal party offering a concrete proposal to address homelessness and housing affordability—a Vancouver Housing Authority. The VHA would build, own, and operate, social housing. It would also take part in ‘at market’ housing development and use the money generated from this activity to generate additional social housing.

      UBC has a proven successful track record of profitable involvement in building market housing. Some of its developments have generated in excess of a hundred million dollars. The university wisely used this money to subsidize its operating budget. It’s time the City of Vancouver did the same, but rather than using substantial profits it would earn to subsidize the city’s operating budget, instead, it would use these funds to build social and affordable housing.
      The municipality of Squamish has a proven track record the last few years of building hundreds of units of below market rental housing.

      If UBC can do it, if Squamish can do it, Vancouver can do it to.

      Vote COPE!

      Comments

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      9 Comments

      RUK

      Oct 3, 2014 at 3:54pm

      You're halfway there Tim Louis. You have to make the business case too.

      And the stats are there. Lookout Society suggests that the taxpayer saves about $12,000/year on services to the housed poor compared to the cost of services to the homeless. Now, I think there is probably a lot of apple-to-orange conversion in there because of the contribution of mental illness, chronic illness, addiction and criminalized orientation to the homeless pop, but let's just say that homelessness costs the taxpayer $12,000 more.

      So in theory as long as you can house somebody for $12,000 or less per annum then you're money ahead, plus the whole moral goodness argument.

      What would it cost the city to build 1,000 new suites?

      Sell us the project, man. And by us I don't mean the Georgia Straight reader but the guy in Terrace who's looking at his credit card bill and asking himself where his tax dollars are going.

      1,000 suites RUK?

      Oct 3, 2014 at 5:00pm

      you're dreaming. we need at least 5,000. and when they are filled we will need 5,000 more. build it and they will come.

      RUK

      Oct 3, 2014 at 8:40pm

      I'm not dreaming, I'm asking.

      And yes, I'm not totally without a suspicion that some people are looking for a handout, not a handup.

      everything

      Oct 4, 2014 at 12:04pm

      COPE completely misunderstands the social housing sector in BC. Their policy booklet on the subject is full of omissions and errors. The most obvious thing is that almost all the non-profit housing in Vancouver was the result of provincial or federal programs, not municipal. They have no idea how much it costs to build and manage social housing. If it was as easy as they claim then Vision would be doing it. After all COPE are ideologically identical to Vision of 2007, the only difference being that Vision finally worked out that their ideas were unacheivable.

      Nelson100

      Oct 4, 2014 at 12:11pm

      Tim Louis is right, Vision's record on homeless is shockingly bad. Vision generate lots of big talk about the environment and progressive issues, but their actions are consistently all about helping their developer supporters make a profit. Let's remove them from office in November.

      RUK

      Oct 8, 2014 at 11:18am

      No reply from Tim. Should I have thrown something about Cuba in there for ya, Tim? Or are we content to just rely on "anything but Vision"?

      Tim Louis

      Oct 11, 2014 at 4:57pm

      RUK, sorry about that, I just saw your comment now. I think you yourself just did a pretty good job of making the business case. Bottom line: it costs the taxpayer more to have someone homeless living on the street than it does to build and manage a suite for that person to live in. You essentially said that but better than I am.

      It would cost the City nothing to ensure the creation of the 1,000 suites you talk about if City Council required developers, with all developments over a certain size, to set aside 20% of the units as authentically affordable units.

      What if

      Oct 14, 2014 at 4:44pm

      we encourage people to live in less expensive parts of Metro Vancouver.. up to and including Squamish!? Who says Vancouver has to house everyone who wants to live here. Sorry, but we can't, and.. there are other places to live.

      DowntownJim3724

      Nov 10, 2014 at 11:45pm

      I don't share Tim's space in the political spectrum. He's somewhere to the left of Marx and Engels. That said, he's a good guy who is an excellent advocate for worthy causes such as the homeless problem. I'm voting for Lapointe for Mayor but I want Tim on Council. He will do his best to ensure that the "powers that be" are accountable to the voters - something that's been lacking over the last number of years under the Robertson Government.