The B.C. government has an ambitious plan to offer long-term housing to former tent-city residents in Vancouver.
On May 20, the minister responsible for housing in B.C., Attorney General David Eby, said at a nonprofit-housing conference that this is part of a broad-based plan to offer a road map to permanent homes for former campers from Strathcona and Oppenheimer parks. He described this as “complex care housing”.
“In Vancouver, B.C. Housing—in partnership with Atira, Portland Hotel Society, and Lu’ma Native Housing—housed 296 people out of the encampment at Strathcona Park,” Eby said.
According to Eby, more than 80 percent of those “decamped” from Oppenheimer Park are being housed now after the government bought hotels. He’s hoping that “far in excess of 80 percent” of those from Strathcona Park will also remain housed.
“The challenge is that a hotel, while it’s significantly better than a tent, is not purpose-built housing,” Eby explained. “So we are in partnership with the City of Vancouver to build about 1,500 units of housing over the next 18 to 24 months.”
In 2017, the B.C. NDP promised 114,000 affordable homes over 10 years. Eby told conference attendees that so far, “we’ve opened or begun work on more than 26,000 homes”.
“So we are on track, but we still need your help in partnership in delivering the housing that we’ve pivoted to deliver,” he said.
One of the “key goals” in the Ministry of Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing service plan is that British Columbians have access to “safe, affordable and functional housing”.
According to the service plan, B.C. Housing has a target of completing 4,500 affordable and supportive housing units this fiscal year, followed by 3,000 in each of the two following years.
“The response to Strathcona Park was definitely a crisis response because it is a crisis when people are living in tents and makeshift shelters in a park,” Eby said at the conference. “When they’re trying to stay warm and setting their tents on fire accidentally—when people are incredibly vulnerable to predators and they’re getting sick—it is a humanitarian crisis.
“And our government responded accordingly, buying hotels and urgently deploying—in partnership with our nonprofit partners, without whom we couldn’t have done it—the housing required to support people getting inside.”
Meanwhile, the provincial government plans to spend $1.9 billion on 14,000 new affordable rental homes over 10 years. Eby told the nonprofit-housing conference attendees that 6,100 homes are at some stage of development through the province’s Community Housing Fund.
“And in the coming weeks, we will be announcing thousands of new affordable rental homes funded by this,” he said.
HousingHub targets middle class
Eby also pointed out that B.C. Housing’s affordable-rental and homeownership division, HousingHub, received a $2-billion investment in the recent provincial budget.
This money will provide lower-interest construction-financing loans to encourage developers and community groups to build housing for middle-income households.
According to Eby, this helps provide “affordable housing for the middle class for [family] incomes of up to $117,000”, though he added that it has been targeted at family incomes of $60,000.
“With this investment, it is our hope and expectation that 9,000 new affordable housing units are funded through this investment,” he said.
Eby emphasized that as loans are repaid, money will cycle back through B.C. Housing, offering opportunities to develop more homes in the future.
“It also reflects a fairly dramatic shift on the part of government to recognize that there is clearly a connection between affordable middle-class rental housing and homelessness—that we need to go upstream,” Eby said. “We need to provide housing for people to take pressure off the rental-housing market.”
Council rejects Boyle's housing motion
At the conference, Eby assured people that there will still be a public-engagement process for B.C. government–backed housing projects.
However, he noted that in the City of Victoria, existing rezoning and public-hearing processes would delay the development of modular housing by six to eight months.
Meanwhile, OneCity Vancouver councillor Christine Boyle recently introduced a motion to allow social-housing projects up to 12 storeys in many Vancouver neighbourhoods without a public hearing. Eby made no mention of this motion in his presentation—nor whether scrapping public hearings for social-housing projects is required under the province’s partnership with the City of Vancouver for 1,500 new purpose-built homes.
Boyle's motion was defeated on May 25, with councillors Adriane Carr, Melissa De Genova, Pete Fry, Colleen Hardwick, Lisa Dominato, Rebecca Bligh, and Sarah Kirby-Yung voting against.
Coun. Michael Wiebe declared a conflict of interest and did not vote.
The only ones in favour in addition to Boyle were Coun. Jean Swanson and Mayor Kennedy Stewart.