This week the City conducted its annual homelessness count. As usual, the count was conducted shortly before the closure of several emergency shelters. This April five shelters are set to close, resulting in a net loss of approximately 200 shelter beds. No replacement shelters have been planned. The homelessness count is a public relations stunt timed weeks before the yearly shelter closures.
Since the start of the Homelessness Emergency Action Team (HEAT) program in 2008/9, the annual closure of the shelters in April has caused an exodus of people from shelters onto the
street. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, residents of the closing HEAT shelters were ruthlessly evicted. The shelter closures were largely ignored by the corporate press and statisticians, while limited funding extensions have been repeatedly mis-reported as creating “new” shelter spaces.
This week the City has released a Report Card evaluating its progress on housing and homelessness. The Report Card gives an A+ to Vision councillors, praised by the Mayor for “exceeding all of the City’s short-term targets.” A brief look at the report confirms that the city is on track to continue the privatization and deregulation of Vancouver’s affordable housing.
Vancouver critics like David Eby have long challenged the practice of police investigating police. The multi-million dollar public relations effort of bodies like BC Housing and the City of Vancouver, however, has not faced the same level of criticism. Like a police force that exonerates itself after an internal investigation, Vision Vancouver is issuing its own “Report Card” in order to escape unscathed from five years of a failed housing and homelessness strategy.
Public backlash yesterday against the City’s plan to increase fines on homelessness and street-vending to $10,000 caused the Mayor’s office to pull the item from the agenda just before the 6pm public hearing time.
According to statements made last night by Vision city councillors Geoff Meggs, Raymond Louie, and Andrea Reimer, the party has decided to postpone a decision on the matter — not because they are opposed to the high fines, but out of legal obligations in response to ongoing constitutional challenges against the City in court.
The stated reason for the postponement was that the PIVOT Legal Society has launched a court challenge against the existing $2,000 fines for homelessness. The court challenge did not arise at the last minute, however, and has been ongoing since November of last year. Councillors were in full knowledge of this legal challenge (and others), as well as the impacts of the legislation on the poor and on civil liberties, when on November 28 2012 they approved the new fines in principle and asked the city’s lawyers to draft the bylaws, to be voted upon after yesterday’s public hearing. The impacts of the proposed bylaws were also discussed in recent newspaper articles, including one in the Straight on January 9th entitled “Higher fines could hit Vancouver’s homeless hard.” Nevertheless, Vision felt the new bylaws were ready to come to a vote, and made no attempt to incorporate exceptions into the bylaws for homeless people or those who cannot afford $10,000 fines.
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.
The Streetohome Foundation has officially launched its new Rent Bank program with a $366,000 three-year loan from Streetohome board member Frank Giustra of the Radcliffe Foundation. Smaller administrative costs totalling $49,000 per year will be paid by the City, although the program itself will be administered by the non-profit Inner-City Community Services Society.
One-time loans from the rent bank will average $835 and can reach up to a maximum of $1300 for an individual, with a repayment plan spanning up to two years. To qualify, tenants perform an assessment either online or over the phone. Tenants are issued a loan if the rent bank judges that they can afford the repayment plan, and if the tenant agrees in advance to repay the loan through automatic withdrawals on their bank account.
Both the rent bank policy and the Streetohome organization were born under previous NPA and COPE municipal governments. The City’s 2005 Homeless Action Plan, drafted under COPE’s last term in office (2002 – 2005), called for the rent bank to disburse both loans and grants to low-income renters in short-term crisis. The current version is less ambitious and removes the grant option, following instead the path set out under NPA’s pro-business term (2005 – 2008). The NPA formed Streetohome in an effort to incentivize the real-estate sector to solve homelessness through philanthropy and charity.
This article was originally posted on thecityfm.org
Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Task Force on housing affordability avoided using Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) definition of “affordable housing” in its recently-released final report. The report, entitled “Bold Ideas for an Affordable City,” instead opts for a flexible and vague definition of housing affordability.
In the glossary (page 40) of the task force’s final report, “affordable housing” is defined as housing that:
can be provided by the City, government, non-profit, community and for-profit partners. It can be found or developed along the whole housing continuum, and include SROs, market rental and affordable home ownership. The degree of housing affordability results from the relationship between the cost of housing and household income. It is not a static concept, as housing costs and incomes change over time.
This definition stands in contrast to the widely accepted definition provided by the CMHC:
The cost of adequate shelter should not exceed 30% of household income. Housing which costs less than this is considered affordable. However, consumers, housing providers and advocacy organizations tend to use a broader definition of affordability.
The Mayor’s Task Force is attempting to argue that affordability is not a “static concept,” as quoted in the above glossary excerpt. Housing affordability is based on household income, which, yes does indeed change based on income level over time. But none of this changes the fact that the dominant definition of affordability is static at 30% of household income.
Yesterday Vision Vancouver released its final report on Housing Affordability in Vancouver. Shortly after being elected for a second term, Vision created an Affordability Task Force to address issues of housing affordability. The high-profile Task Force was co-chaired by the Mayor and right wing millionaire developer Olga Ilich, a former member of Gordon Campbell’s cabinet. The remaining members were comprised of fourteen Vision appointees drawn from the development industry: prominent developers, landlord lobbyists and industry insiders. Not a single renter or renter representative was appointed to the Task Force, despite the fact that renters — making up 55% of the city’s population — are the worst affected by the housing crisis.
For a long time Vancouver elites have struggled to square the circle of how to produce housing affordability without negatively affecting developer profits and property owners’ interests. The Task Force has proved no different in encountering this clash between ideal and reality, vexed by the challenge of balancing profitability with public anger about the housing crisis. That contradiction is the sharp rock upon which the Task Force is now shipwrecked. Despite Olga Ilich’s statement that “the biggest cost in Vancouver is the cost of land,” the Mayor admitted yesterday to the Province that he “doesn’t see the affordability plan having a broad impact on land values in Vancouver.”
The final recommendations of the Task Force show little advance from the neoliberal recommendations offered in the interim recommendations of last March. The first, and arguably the most disastrous for deregulating the private housing market, is a recommendation that planners abandon the city’s Inclusionary Zoning requirements. “The City’s current inclusionary zoning policy requires developers to set aside 20% of land for affordable housing,” the report states. “While this approach creates the opportunity for affordable housing development…a different approach will be needed to deliver affordability.”
Current city by-laws require 20% non-market housing in all new large-scale development projects, as well as in the DEOD (Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District). This year, however, inclusionary zoning policies have already been flouted by major city council decisions, including 800 Griffiths Way, “market rent” social housing at 955 East Hastings, and the decision to rent “social housing” for $900 per month at Sequel 138 Pantages redevelopment. The Task Force recommendation goes a step further in pushing council to put the deregulation approach into writing, thereby further lowering the bar for maintaining safeguards against privatization. The Mainlander has warned as far back as January 2011 that Vision Vancouver was planning to remove inclusionary zoning in Vancouver. This proposal will only make Vancouver more unaffordable for the long-term.