This year’s Vancouver homelessness count showed that more people than ever are living on the streets in BC’s largest city. Housing across BC is about to face even more strain with the expected mass expiration of funding for existing social housing. In the next 20 years, over 36,000 units of non-profit housing in Greater Vancouver, including co-op housing, social housing and senior housing, are set to lose their funding. Over 45% of these units will lose their funding in the next six years and the majority of them – 17,000 units – are located in the City of Vancouver.

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Social Housing Alliance holds a Vigil outside a Vision Vancouver fundraiser to mourn the loss of social and affordable housing in Vancouver, February 28th, 2014.

The definition of social housing has been the focus of the low-income caucus currently participating in the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Process (LAP). While a definition of social housing seems simple, it will actually play a crucial role in debates over the DTES Local Area Plan (LAP) in the coming weeks.

This week – on March 12th – Vancouver city staff will present a final draft of the LAP for the Downtown Eastside to city council. The Vision-led City Council will be using this opportunity to strike the definition of low cost housing and social housing in the City’s bylaws, and replace both with a new definition of social housing.

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Mayor and Police Chief at Vancouver Police Board (Sept 17th, 2013)

Last week Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson held a joint press conference with the Vancouver Police Department announcing a “mental health crisis” in Vancouver. The press release, and a series of associated reports, could have addressed the barriers and stigma facing people with mental health issues in our communities. Instead, they entrench the worst forms of stigmatization and detrimental stereotypes.

In his press release, the Mayor paints a terrifying picture of violent attacks in the midst of a “public health crisis” on the verge of “spiraling out of control.” Since January 2012, the Mayor writes, “the VPD has identified 96 serious incidents ranging from suicides to random, violent attacks inflicted upon innocent members of the public.” Without specifying the actual number of suicides versus attacks, the Mayor adds, “It is a miracle that many of the people involved in these random attacks have not died.” The City report, which does not attempt to convey a complex understanding of mental and public health issues, resorts to graphic images and anecdotes, repeating the notion that people with severe mental illness are a “threat” to the public.

Model of False Creek 

Bob Ransford has recently published yet another article in the Vancouver Sun repeating his mantra that the affordability crisis in Vancouver is caused by a lack of private development. The logic goes as follows: Demand for new housing is exceeding supply, yet the people of Vancouver are preventing affordability by fighting against the development industry’s bid to add more supply. “The solution is simple,” writes Ransford, “more supply equals more affordable housing.”

In the midst of an affordable housing shortage, including a virtual freeze on the construction of non-market housing, it goes without saying that Vancouver needs more housing. The question to ask, however, is do we need more private housing development? After decades of increased housing prices, growing household debt, and growing urban inequalities, now is a good time to re-evaluate the role of the private sector in providing one of the basic necessities of life: housing.

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