An upcoming supportive housing vote is a test of Council's commitment to tackling the housing crisis.
Housing (in)security remains the primary issue facing Vancouver residents. The good news is that Vancouver City Council recently approved a supportive housing project on the east side that will provide 109 homes. The real test of their commitment to social housing will come on June 28th, when they’ll decide the fate of a nearly identical project-–but this time in Kitsilano.
If you want to know which sitting Councillors are serious about tackling the housing crisis over the next four years, watch how they vote on a supportive housing initiative at 8th and Arbutus.
The project represents the challenges of building affordable housing in wealthy neighbourhoods––and Council’s decision will indicate whether they believe that people of all socio-economic backgrounds belong in all areas of the city.
The project would provide 129 social housing units for people who are precariously housed. Half the units will be secured at shelter rate and the other half will be affordable for residents earning very low incomes. The project includes on-site trained support workers, health and wellness services, education and employment opportunities, and life skills training.
Women Transforming Cities runs a campaign to ensure the voices of those most often excluded in local politics are prioritised during Vancouver’s election. Through our Hot Pink Paper Campaign we gather input from front-line organisations and equity-deserving residents about the issues that matter most to them.
Housing affordability was by far the top concern we heard after months of engagement. Participants made it clear that in order to address concerns such as safety, climate risk, and social isolation, housing insecurity must be prioritised.
Given the primacy of affordable housing as an election issue, expect every Council candidate to attempt to woo voters with promises to tackle the housing crisis. But with upwards of 71 candidates potentially vying for 10 Council seats, whose commitments can be taken seriously?
The June 28th supportive housing decision offers a litmus test of candidates’ commitments to implementing tangible solutions to our ongoing housing crisis––and a polygraph on the rhetoric we’re likely to hear on the campaign trail.
We’ll be paying close attention to which Councillors approve, oppose––or attempt to delay––these desperately needed homes.
Take public safety, for example. Despite the Vancouver Police Department’s own data showing that crime rates are down, we know that discussions of “public order” will dominate the election cycle.
Councillors can’t, in good faith, campaign on addressing public safety if they vote against a project that will address people's basic needs. Providing supportive housing for those at risk of homelessness is perhaps one of the best ways to reduce crimes of necessity. In addition, studies have shown that crime does not increase near supportive housing sites.
Reconciliation and the MMIWG Calls for Justice
Many Council members speak passionately about reconciliation. Approving this project is a tangible way to take action on reconciliation.
In their report to Council, city staff rightly note that “Indigenous residents are consistently and significantly over-represented” amongst the population who will be served by this building. The project will also include “culturally relevant healing and wellness services,” which will further Vancouver’s goal of being a city of reconciliation.
Furthermore, this project is aligned with addressing the Calls for Justice of the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). The inquiry identifies poverty, insecure housing, homelessness, and barriers to services as a contributing factor to violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.
If Councillors are serious about addressing gendered anti-Indigenous violence, they will demonstrate it by approving more safe and affordable housing and culturally appropriate services––like the 8th and Arbutus supportive housing initiative.
Senior Government Support
Local politicians frequently speak about the provincial government’s downloading of responsibilities onto municipalities––and the need for senior governments to provide adequate funding to address these responsibilities.
Through CMHC and BC Housing, both the federal and provincial governments are making significant contributions to this project. Council can’t say that senior governments need to take the first step and cough up the money if they aren’t willing to approve federally and provincially funded projects.
The well-resourced campaign against welcoming more neighbours to Kitsilano––which is rooted in both misinformation about the project and stigmatisation of people living in poverty––means that approving the project will require a courageous choice from Council.
Will they listen to the most privileged voices in the room? Or will they listen to the evidence from city staff, the voices of equity-deserving populations, and the prevailing public opinion on the need for more housing options in all neighbourhoods?
Whatever Councillors choose, voters will be watching to see if their election commitments on affordable housing can be taken seriously come October.
This post was written by WTC staff members Clara Prager and Mahtab Laghaei
Or join Kits for Inclusivity at the HR MacMillan Space Centre from 11-1:30pm on Saturday, June 25 for community action around this initiative.
Take a look at this form letter for inspiration or send this along to city council.