Is it better for the province to give rent supplements to low income people than to build more social housing? This is an important question for BC residents to ask. Metro Vancouver counted 2770 homeless people in March this year, more than have ever been counted.
In addition, “We know the count underestimates the number of people who are actually homeless,” says the Metro Vancouver report. When you add in the hidden homelessness and people at risk of homelessness you get at least 116,000 people in BC who need decent housing they can afford.
Despite the growing crisis, BC’s Housing Minister, Rich Coleman, seems to have given up on building new social housing: “We don’t build social housing anymore,” he told the Vancouver Sun in February. Instead, Coleman said the government will only be giving rent vouchers for market housing.
Should BC Housing subsidize a Downtown Eastside (DTES) condo developer when our neighbourhood has 850 homeless people and 3500 living in crummy hotel rooms that need to be replaced? Is Condo King Bob Rennie, also on the Board of BC Housing, behind a sweet deal that will probably increase property values two blocks away from his own office?
These are two questions that shocked Downtown Eastsiders are asking after learning that BC Housing plans to loan up to $23 million to condo developer Marc Williams. Williams plans to build 79 condo units plus 18 social housing units (only 9 will rent at welfare rates) at the site of the old Pantages Theatre, 138 E. Hastings. He calls the project Sequel 138. According to The Province, the loans will be at 1.29 % interest, much lower than the going rate from a bank.
It wasn’t til the next day that I realized what had happened the day before. I went to the City’s Renter’s Roundtable at the Downtown Library [May 26 2011]. I thought it was supposed to be a place to comment on the city’s draft housing strategy, which I’d read. I thought there were some problems with the strategy. For one, it seemed to have backed down from the Homeless Action Plan’s goal of getting 800 units of social housing a year between 2005 and 2015. The new strategy was only talking about a goal of 1200 units between now and 2020, less than 200 units a year. And it was only talking about supportive social housing, not social housing for people who have low incomes but don’t have other issues.
So off we went, me and 4 people from Carnegie. We signed in. Then the people at the sign-in table asked us to sign a waiver because the event was to be filmed. I took a look at it and it said the film might be used for a number of things including advertising. I didn’t want to be in an advertisement for something I might not agree with so I didn’t sign and walked into the room.