Jennifer Bradshaw: "Huge" East Vancouver development will save lives and provide much-needed housing

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      By Jennifer Bradshaw

      Let’s talk about size—the magnitude of the opioid and housing affordability problems in Vancouver.

      An elderly homeless man, Ted, who liked to frequent the West Broadway Tim Hortons, recently died. The cause of his death is yet unknown, but his friends on the streets lament his struggle to get care for his cancer. They also described their own troubles accessing nonjudgemental health care, especially for illicit drug users.

      The health care gap for those on the streets is acute, especially now.

      More than 1,400 people died of overdoses in Vancouver in 2017—over 50 percent more than in 2016. As most are aware, the powerful opioid, fentanyl, is to blame for the suddenly spiking deaths.

      We have a huge opioid crisis in Vancouver.

      The “huge” development at East 1st Avenue and Clark Drive will have a state-of-the-art transition care centre operated by Vancouver Coastal Health, with improved transition bed capacity to help meet the growing need, to prevent more opioid deaths.

      Let’s talk about the other huge crisis everyone’s talking about: housing affordability.

      About a month ago, I ventured into the West Side to see a pet-friendly apartment for $1,575 a month. The open house—which was only for an hour—was a zoo. There were at least 50 people milling in and out of the packed 600-square-foot space. Many had lined up to make good-tenant elevator pitches to the overwhelmed landlady. They ran out of rental application forms.

      I did not get the apartment.

      My experience is far from unique. The widespread need for more rental units in Vancouver is by now well documented. The current vacancy rate in the city is 0.8 percent, and a healthy rate is estimated to be around 3 percent.

      Calgary’s vacancy rate is 6 percent. If you have an eviction record to your name in this climate, or any perceived risk as a tenant, or don’t have references, you're going to be turned away in favour of others. There’s just too much competition for the scarce rental units and long waits for co-op housing.

      There’s also a dearth of social housing, and SROs are both scarce and in terrible shape.

      This “huge” lack of affordable housing at the low end of the market effectively means more and more people end up on the streets. Not only is the homeless count rising, the percentage that is unsheltered is surging.

      The “huge” development at East 1st and Clark is projected to have 100 below-market, guaranteed rental units, operated by a nonprofit.

      Perhaps now, a time of dual opioid and housing crisis, is not the time for neighbourhood councils to be calling for the project to be delayed, downsized, or moved elsewhere. The project does not contradict the Grandview-Woodland community plan. More importantly, it's desperately needed.

      The dual crises should mean that we are all saying “yes, in our backyards.”

      If you’d like to support this much needed project, please write and/or go to the open house at Vancouver Community College from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on June 11.