“Every day that the Liberals delay allowing a new government to be formed,” said NDP’s Spencer Chandra Herbert earlier this month, “is a day that more people lose their homes.” With today’s vote of non-confidence, a feeling of optimism is now in the air. But will an NDP-Green government actually address homelessness? Will it fund non-market housing or even minimally alter the rules of the housing market?
In their annual Housing and Homelessness Report Card, the City of Vancouver reports that 1,683 units of new social housing are in development or have been built since 2012. Yet based on research by the authors, under 6% of the new social housing is guaranteed for people on welfare. The vast majority of Vancouver’s “social housing”, therefore, will be unavailable for the 1,847 people reported as homeless in Vancouver this year, the highest number since counts began.
April of this year marks nine years since welfare rates – still frozen at $610 a month for a single person – have gone up. Although the provincial government plans to increase disability rates by $77 a month in September, they also plan to begin charging people who receive the disability pension $669 a year for a bus pass that they now get for $45 a year. This means giving with one hand and taking with the other, and the decision has enraged the many people trying to get by on meagre benefits across this province.
The housing crisis has never been worse in Vancouver, across the Lower Mainland, and throughout the unceded Coast Salish Territories of British Columbia. The number of people displaced, living on the streets and in shelters has never been higher. Literally. On the eve of the federal elections let’s assemble to demand a national housing strategy that addresses the root causes of the housing crisis.
This Sunday an unusual Affordable Housing Rally will be held at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The stated goal of the rally is to attract Vancouver’s middle class residents, “young professionals,” and “well educated people” who #DontHave1Million. In the words of the organizers, the rally seeks to amplify the voices of those “increasingly incensed population of Vancouverites who by comparison live pretty privileged lives.” In a city with deepening poverty and a long history of working class housing movements, the event has been interpreted as a bold shift towards highlighting the housing aspirations of Vancouver’s relatively affluent.
When they are pressed to comment on social housing and homelessness, most civic politicians pass the buck. It’s a Federal and Provincial responsibility, they say. Cities have the smallest tax base of all governments,they complain. The fact is: there is a lot that cities can do to fight the housing crisis in British Columbia even within their current jurisdictions, legal powers and budgets. If they are willing to face up to the depth and severity of the housing crisis in BC and to take appropriately drastic actions, challenging these limits, they can do even more.