For the past few weeks, Women Transforming Cities has focussed on the City of Vancouver budget to ensure that services approved through motions, bylaws, and other city decisions had funding. Initially, staff had proposed a cap of 5% increase in property taxes. This limited allocation did not initially prioritize a few new and ongoing projects that mattered to the health, safety, prosperity, and well-being of women in Vancouver.
After listening to over 100 speakers and two weeks of tireless deliberation, City Council has approved a 7 million dollar increase in the funding, which allows the recently approved Vacancy Control bylaw for Single Room Occupancy Hotels to receive ongoing funding. We hope other positions, like the one working on the MMIWG & Red Women Rising reports, are also allocated for funding as part of this increase. We thank city staff and City Council for their hard work on this, and all the people and organizations that advocated for these provisions.
While we are glad to see this, we hope at the next budget hearing, more is done to ensure our safety and wellbeing as a community with investments into community-led services prioritized over increasing the police budget.
Please read below what our staff member Mahtab Laghaei shared at the public hearing last week.
Good morning mayor and council, my name is Mahtab and I’m a campaign lead for Women Transforming Cities. As you know, we are an organization that works to ensure Vancouver is a city where women, in all their diversity, are able to thrive. The budget is one of the most important things we focus on as an organization because while many promises are made throughout the year, the choices made next week will ensure what actually goes into effect, and for how long. As a result, we do oppose this motion and are also looking for clarification from city council on funding for a few essential projects and motions. We also wanted to bring attention to a few promises that have no funding—despite the city indicating that they’re a priority. Nothing can be a priority unless there’s money attached to it.
Last year, we advocated for the continuation of the position that conducts the MMIWG and Red Women Rising report work as it was going to be cut. This seems to be the case this year as well. The last information I was given was that the position only has funding for 6 more months. Women Transforming Cities was here last year advocating for the same thing. As a city that purports to be working on Indigenous reconciliation and redress, halting progress on this work is unacceptable, and putting it on the chopping block for another year downplays the city’s efforts in making sure the public safety of Indigenous women in our city is a core priority. We hope there is a way that it could be funded as ongoing work so we are not met with this omission every year.
This past November, the city committed to implementing a vacancy control bylaw that would protect residents of Single Room Occupancy Hotels from being priced out of their units. It's an essential component of the city’s housing strategy, and we know it is the cheapest way to combat homelessness. Yet again, there seems to be no ongoing funding for it in the budget.
The City has stated in the past that it is committed to being an accessible city. After speaking to disability organizer Gabrielle Peters, I would like to share a few points she has highlighted:
"Ableism is glaringly omitted from the Equity and Social issues section of the budget, despite the fact that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty, and have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. More than 59% of disabled people are women, and are two to four times more likely to experience violence in their lives. Ableism is the missing piece and its absence will not only harm disabled people but efforts to address other oppressions as well. Ableism is the rebar of white supremacy and capitalism. It holds the other oppressions in place."
In a related point, and the details have been discussed all day today so I apologize for any repetitions, we were curious about the funding for the Heat and Poor Air Quality Mitigation Memo. We realize some of the proposals from that memo should be included in the capital budget, but are wondering if things like additional staff/operating of facilities to keep them open 24 hours as cooling centres during periods of extreme heat and/or poor air quality, and additional funds for Fire and Rescue (including the possibility of training special volunteers to be available for things such as setting up and monitoring open fire hydrants), are included in the 2022 operating budget?
Everything I have mentioned today points to an essential service or an absolutely critical lens that is omitted and/or not being prioritized for funding that is ongoing. I recognize that the budget cannot and will not include everything, and there are many other service provisions that I am not able to advocate for today due to the time constraint. But to reiterate, everything I’ve mentioned is part of a motion previously passed or a decision already agreed upon, on the line due to the culture of scarcity perpetuated by the budget processes. What I can tell you is that it is unfortunate that we have to fight for these already promised provisions every year. When you ensure projects are ongoing rather than one time, it allows organizations like us to focus on other social areas that need improvement.