Vancouver councillors consider ways to address opioid and housing crises

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      As local politicians prepared for their Christmas break, NPA councillor Rebecca Bligh told the Georgia Straight that there would be one piece of business on her mind over the break: the overdose crisis.

      “We’ve just spent the morning looking at and considering the report by the Mayor’s Emergency Opioid Task Force,” Bligh explained in a telephone interview on December 21. “So we’ll be following up to see how we, as a council, can make some headway here.”

      Bligh, who worked in communications and leadership development before joining council, said she wants Vancouver Coastal Health and its partners to take seriously the idea that cannabis may, for some people, work as a substitute that can help them transition from and stay off harder drugs that come with risks of fatal overdoses.

      “It’s perhaps a little bit controversial, but there is [an epidemiologist] at UBC [Michael John Milloy] who has been awarded a professorship to study it,” Bligh said.

      There are 10 seats on council, and eight of them are filled by politicians serving their first terms.

      Bligh said these couple of months have been a bit of a learning experience, where new councillors have had to grapple with demands for the city to respond to problems that are traditionally responsibilities of the provincial and federal governments. The opioid epidemic is one such example, she noted.

      From the other end of the political spectrum, Jean Swanson, a first-term councillor with COPE, said the same.

      “At all these briefings, I’m learning that so much of what the city has to deal with is caused by bad provincial policies,” the long-time activist told the Straight. “Homelessness, for example…. Housing, social-welfare programs—these are very much provincial and federally funded mandates.”

      COPE's Jean Swanson isn't giving up on her goal of achieving vacancy control.

      Swanson emphasized that she will continue to work on these issues once council reconvenes in 2019.

      “What we really need is vacancy control, but the province has really caved to the developers and the landlords on that one,” Swanson said.

      The term “vacancy control” describes regulations for how a landlord can increase a unit’s rent between tenants, usually placing a maximum on that amount. On December 12, the provincial Rental Housing Task Force issued recommendations. To some people’s chagrin and others’ relief, a vacancy control was not on the list.

      “As long as we don’t have that, there’s a profit incentive to evict tenants,” Swanson said. “It’s really bad for affordable housing stock, because all of these apartment buildings are sold at a really high price on the assumption that we don’t have vacancy control.

      “It’s a really bad situation,” she continued. “The province has to step up, and if it doesn’t, we need to mobilize tenants to get the city to.”