Posted on July 22, 2015 by Jennifer A. O’Keeffe
July 22nd, 2015

When I addressed Council last fall, I brought to the attention of council that there had been several by-laws passed by previous councils decades ago furnishing the city with the wherewithal to force slum landlords to meet minimum health standards, thus no need for any new by-laws. Housing advocates have been calling on the city to enforce these by-laws for years! Why hasn’t that happened? The present mayor and his fellow councillors have previously engaged in ‘re-defining’ what homelessness is and isn’t, and have recently partaken in the ‘re-definition’ of low-cost housing (Social Housing). As CCAP announced “Unfortunately the homeless count this year is not that much better than last year (1803 to 1746) and next year the city is only expecting 45 new units for homeless people to open up.

The city opened up 157 units at the Quality Inn to house homeless campers from Oppenheimer Tent City, but it will be closing next year.”

Lets do the math 1746 + 157- 45 projected new units = an increase in homelessness to 1858, so basically despite attempts to redefine homelessness and social housing, the homeless rate count continues to rise. Include another 300 SRO units lost to development, like last year and the homeless rate hits 2158.

This is not governance! This is not representation – unless you’re a developer or ‘condo-king’ – this isn’t even ineptitude, this is pure indifference toward the people you were elected to represent.

Of course, there are a number of actions that the city can take that will improve this situation: first and foremost, the city could actually make affordable housing a priority, rather than a mere election item; the city could, for example, assume the role of the developer instead of depending upon individuals to meet criteria for low-income housing; the city could explore zoning for affordable housing; and not the kind where the other 70 % of the units are market rate! The city could institute rent-controls and ban renovictions; the city could enforce the laws and by-laws already in place to force landlords and owners of rental properties to adhere to the health standards that are currently law; the city could – and should! – be innovative when it comes to what city lands and which city buildings might be utilized for housing right now; the city could engage neighbourhoods and communities to help find solutions, although this would only be useful if the city actually listened to and sought community–based solutions, otherwise such inclusion is nothing more than a facade.

We are not re-inventing the wheel here, COPE campaigned for these solutions all through the election, we have an affordable housing crisis precipitated by an artificially-inflated real estate market: while 50% of us rent, only about 3% of our housing is designated ‘social’. Other cities in the world such as Stockholm or Vienna, have anywhere from 30-80% social housing, owned and maintained by the municipality.

Lets face it, a $10,000 fine for being homeless is not a practical approach to reducing homelessness. The city has had by-laws for nearly 60 years giving them full power to enforce changes to places of lodging – hotels, SRO’s, etc. – but they have ignored these by-laws and instead recently claimed ‘new, improved’ by-laws now give them the powers they have had since 1956! It should be evident to all that Vision Vancouver is suffering from myopia with regard to affordable housing and the plight of the homeless.

The mayor pledged to end homelessness, instead it has risen to the highest numbers in city history! Vision Vancouver is completely unconcerned with the affordable housing crisis and their lack of focus on the issue is, quite frankly, unacceptable. We are all citizens. The residents of Vancouver are being ignored in favour of the developers who bankroll their campaigns. This is not a mayor or council of the people, for the people; it is a cabal of the few, for the few. That Vision has broken their promises to the working poor and the homeless after using their plight as election fodder is obvious; unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there: the current mayor and council then demonstrated their utter lack of integrity by proceeding to vote themselves raises! Think about that! They are rewarding themselves, despite their obvious failures, while in the surrounding streets the homeless numbers continue to skyrocket. Worse, B.C. Housing is at risk of losing its existing social housing as the operating agreements for these providers will expire in 2020.

It is paramount to bear in mind that what we view as ‘problems’ – such as homelessness and the greater issue of affordable housing – are, in fact, simply challenges and that the solutions to these challenges are neither mysterious, nor beyond our capabilities. All that is required is the desire to find solutions and the willingness to act. Homelessness is not confined to a neighbourhood: it affects us all, regardless of whether we are property owners or not.

Make affordable housing a priority, rather than a mere election item!