Shauna Sylvester: Will Mayor Robertson renew the leases on housing cooperatives before he leaves office?

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      By Shauna Sylvester

      There is a particular affordable housing crisis in Vancouver—one that has a simple, straightforward answer—that would bring much-needed security to thousands of families living in co-op homes.

      If only Mayor Gregor Robertson would step up and make it so.

      All that is needed is for the City of Vancouver to renew the leases for about 50 co-ops located on city-owned land in Marpole, False Creek/Kitsilano, Grandview/Woodland, and downtown. Doing so would allow the co-ops, which are in aging structures badly in need of significant repair, to obtain the necessary financing for roof replacements, new windows, energy efficiency upgrades, and more. Instead, after years of negotiations and delays, these co-ops and the families who live in them continue to face an increasingly uncertain future.

      These co-ops provide nearly 4,000 homes that are at risk as the clock ticks down on leases due to expire before 2030, and some within just a few years. Many accommodate families, young professionals, Indigenous people, seniors, and disabled people in the kind of affordable housing that is hard to find in Vancouver.

      But it doesn’t need to be this way.

      Co-ops are a model of mixed-income housing that was worked beautifully since the 1930s, and continues to be a highly sought after, effective way to provide affordable housing in an increasingly unaffordable city. They are financially accessible for people with low to moderate incomes and they are inclusive and diverse, welcoming people from different backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and abilities in a supportive, secure environment. 

      "The timely renewal of co-op land leases on fair and reasonable terms is the most pressing issue currently facing housing co-ops in Vancouver," suggests Thom Armstrong, executive director of the Co-op Housing Federation of B.C. "We need to solve this problem before the end of council's current term so that thousands of co-op members can look forward to a safe, secure, affordable future in the communities they call home."

      This administration came to power in 2008 promising to end homelessness by 2015. In 2017, it promised to create more affordable housing under the new "Housing Vancouver Strategy". Yet when faced with delivering on that commitment, with something as simple as renewing these co-ops’ leases, there is delay after delay.

      The city has everything it needs to renew the leases. In fact, it has had the documents for years. All it needs to do is set the nonprofit lease rate and renew the leases. 

      It seems like an easy win for Mayor Gregor Robertson and a legacy for his term in office. It will demonstrate a commitment to stabilize housing for hundreds of families and people who rely on the subsidies co-ops provide, including seniors, people with disabilities, and Indigenous people.  

      So please, Mayor Robertson, renew the leases.

      Shauna Sylvester has a long tradition as a co-op advocate and is running as an independent candidate for mayor of Vancouver.