The NDP critic for housing and social development, Shane Simpson, says his counterpart on the government side of the house has displayed “pretty good” rhetoric on affordable housing, but claims that the “substance on the ground is pretty weak”.
In an interview with the Georgia Straight at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention on October 2, Simpson said that Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman has only managed to get shovels into the ground on two of 14 city-owned sites in Vancouver for social and supportive housing.
“There are four others that they’ve talked about, but nothing has happened on them,” Simpson said. “I understand that part of the agreement for Little Mountain [a large site near Main Street and 33rd Avenue facing redevelopment]—and for the city approving demolition permits—is that the [B.C.] government puts shovels in the ground on the four others. That’s part of the trade.”
Nearly two years ago, the B.C. government and the City of Vancouver announced a partnership to "expedite the approval of up to 1,200 new social and supportive housing units on 12 city-owned sites". Two other sites were later added to the list.
Shortly afterward Simpson made his comment, Coleman told the Straight that the NDP critic was wrong.
“I wish he would tell you the truth,” Coleman said. “We have two under construction. The other four are already in pre-development and the money is there for all of them. It’s $175 million that’s going into those units.”
Coleman added that the Little Mountain redevelopment will generate more than $100 million, which will go into the development of social and supportive housing. “We’ll work on the next six in the second year,” he said.
He claimed that this is all his ministry has the capacity to do in Vancouver up until that time because it is also responsible for projects in other areas of the province.
“If Shane doesn’t want to give you the facts, it’s up to him,” Coleman said.
In July, Vancouver city council unanimously passed a motion by COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth calling upon the provincial government to provide a timeline to develop the 14 sites.
The B.C. Liberal government has not called upon the federal Conservative government to create a national housing strategy. Canada is the only G8 country without such a strategy, according to the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness.
Simpson said some provinces have used federal stimulus money to build affordable housing.
“British Columbia has chosen not to do that,” he pointed out.
Simpson added that he has heard “rumblings” that the B.C. Liberal government’s silence on a national housing strategy was a factor behind the federal Conservative government bailing out B.C. on Olympic costs.
The federal government announced in February that it will cover $647 million of the $900 million in anticipated security costs for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler.
“The quid pro quo for that was not asking for more money relating to housing,” Simpson claimed. “I think it’s unfortunate that the province hasn’t pushed more for a national housing program. I’ve got to believe there are provincial governments who would make that case as well.”
Coleman introduced a rent-supplement program to help low-income tenants afford to stay in their homes. Simpson, however, said it has only been 25-percent subscribed, noting that people on social assistance don't qualify.
"Co-ops can't use it," Simpson said. "The nonprofit housing sector can't use it. What we know is people who are on assistance are not given enough money for shelter."