Shortfall in low-income housing could lead to increase in homeless numbers, Vancouver staff say

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Vancouver is about 700 units behind on the number of low-income housing units it expected to have in place by this year, according to city manager Penny Ballem.

      In a presentation to city council today (April 16), Ballem outlined numbers including a loss of 150 SRO units in the Downtown Eastside due to vacancies being held by landlords, the loss of over 200 funded interim housing spaces, and a decrease of 55 winter shelter beds.

      Social housing units planned for the city as part of an agreement with the provincial government are also more than 600 units behind schedule, she said.

      “In the last year, when we were supposed to bring on 876 units of housing, there were only of these sites close to 260 brought on,” Ballem stated. “That’s a big gap, and that has really been a real issue for us in terms of our overall plan and strategy.”

      The staff presentation came as Metro Vancouver is expected to release the results of its regional homeless count next week.

      In a graph presented by Ballem, the “worst-case scenario” for the amount of homeless surveyed in Vancouver could see the number jump to 1,982 from 1,600 in the 2014 count, including 1,044 street homeless. The best case scenario projected by the city would see 187 street homeless and 1,327 sheltered homeless identified.

      But Mayor Gregor Robertson said he’s “not backing down” on council’s goal to end street homelessness by 2015.

      “I think what we see here is that we have a very difficult gap that’s emerged,” he said in council chambers.

      “We need to know…if there are urgent opportunities for interim housing, for ways to fill that gap and to make progress, if there are steps we should take specific to urging the province to make changes on the RTA [Residential Tenancy Act]…if there are steps that we can take in council,” he added. “We’re not just talking about numbers, we’re talking about people who are suffering on our streets.”

      Ballem noted that the affordability of SRO hotels in the Downtown Eastside continues to decline for low-income people, and that the welfare shelter rate “has not changed for many, many years”.

      “The fact that the shelter rate hasn’t moved for years is at the core of many of the problems we face when we’re looking at performance,” she told council. 

      Numbers outlined by Ballem indicate that in 2007, 67 percent of SRO units were at the welfare shelter rate or lower. In 2013, just 24 percent of units in the Downtown Eastside were available at that rate.

      “Since 2007, through to 2013, we have about a third of our stock now is actually renting for over $450 a month,” said Ballem. “So that is essentially out of the range of what can feasibly be paid by someone on social assistance.”

      Metro Vancouver conducts a homeless count in cities throughout the region every three years. The latest statistics for Vancouver will be released as part of the count next week.




      Apr 16, 2014 at 9:41pm

      It is a pipe dream to think you could ever house all the homeless. Even if you build homes for the current number, more will come. When it comes to housing, it would be a better investment to help the working poor. You know, the people who are already contributing to society. As for the homeless problem, I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's only going to get resolved when better treatment for the mentally ill becomes available.

      Rick in Richmond

      Apr 16, 2014 at 11:57pm

      "Build it and they will come" is more than just a line from a movie. It's also a fact of urban life.

      If we build 5000 new units of public housing in Vancouver, 6000 more people will come from elsewhere for the free housing, the good weather, and everything else that makes life so appealing on the coast. We will then have to build *another* 5000 units, and on and on it goes.

      The solutions must be regional, and national. Vancouver, per capita, has far more public housing than any other jurisdiction in Metro Vancouver. There is just no comparison. The DTES already has more public housing than any comparable district in Canada.

      Every municipality must be required -- and helped -- to provide public housing for its own population. Ottawa, in turn, has to help build more in every other Canadian city.

      Otherwise, Vancouver will never -- ever -- be able to solve a problem that it did not cause. Until every jurisdiction agrees to do its share, Vancouver cannot be expected to bear the burden of all those that don't.


      Apr 17, 2014 at 1:20pm

      This is not surprising.
      The housing advocates in the DTES have said for the last 15 years that City policies and bylaws were encouraging displacement in the SROs.
      And now that Penny Ballem says it, we're supposed to do something about it.
      The Local Area Plan was supposed to address this but instead the City changed the definition of social housing and is actively encouraging speculation and development with the newly passed plan.
      Is there any wonder why we are disillusioned with City Hall?