We live in one of the richest cities in the world and in one of the most affluent and wealthiest eras of humankind. There cannot be any excuse for homelessness.
Vision Vancouver came to power in 2008 on the backs of the homeless—promising to end homelessness by 2015. In his inaugural speech Gregor Robertson said: “I’m told that ending homelessness is an audacious goal. And that’s true. But for someone who’s sleeping under a bridge tonight, 2015 can’t come soon enough.”
Then in 2011, Vision was re-elected on the backs of the homeless—promising once again to end homelessness.
Not only did Vision Vancouver fail in its initial promise to end homelessness, it also went to great lengths to conceal its failure by redefining the problem. They were no longer promising to end homelessness. They were now promising to end ‘street homelessness’. By redefining the problem from ‘homelessness’ to ‘street homelessness’, they could appear to fulfill their promise—not with homes, or even housing, but with shelters—and this too often means merely a cot in a room at night, and being ejected at a fixed time every morning with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
Why did they do this? From COPE’s perspective, the answer is crystal clear—Vision’s goal isn’t to end homelessness, it is to help developers.
There was a time when all developments over a certain size were required to set aside a minimum of 20 percent of the units for social housing. Under Vision, this requirement has been removed. In addition, as a gift to developers, Vision is waiving the requirement that the developer pay DCLs (development cost levies) when it includes ‘affordable rental housing’. ‘Affordable rental housing’, however, is simply tiny units and exorbitant rates. There is nothing affordable about them.
The time has come for a new approach at city hall—an approach that no longer puts developers first—an approach that seriously addresses today’s crisis of homelessness and affordable housing.
As my mentor (and former Vancouver city councillor) Harry Rankin once said, when city hall rezones the land, it turns dirt into gold. Isn’t it time that city council, acting on our behalf, took a piece of some of that gold to build real affordable housing?
COPE is the only municipal party offering a concrete proposal to address homelessness and housing affordability—a Vancouver Housing Authority. The VHA would build, own, and operate, social housing. It would also take part in ‘at market’ housing development and use the money generated from this activity to generate additional social housing.
UBC has a proven successful track record of profitable involvement in building market housing. Some of its developments have generated in excess of a hundred million dollars. The university wisely used this money to subsidize its operating budget. It’s time the City of Vancouver did the same, but rather than using substantial profits it would earn to subsidize the city’s operating budget, instead, it would use these funds to build social and affordable housing.
The municipality of Squamish has a proven track record the last few years of building hundreds of units of below market rental housing.
If UBC can do it, if Squamish can do it, Vancouver can do it to.