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.
Editors’ Note | Tomorrow, Sunday morning at 7am, the Mayor’s Encampment Committee is going to try to evict the tent city at Oppenheimer park. Homelessness is increasing because rents are too high, wages and welfare are too low, and the city/developers are gentrifying the Eastside. Highlighting the colonial expansionist aspect of this ongoing process, here is a statement from the residents of the park, Salish peoples and community supporters.
As an urban geographer, my research focuses on how certain cities around the world become models of best policy practice. Vancouver can rightly call itself a global model. Many around the world recognize this Council and its predecessors for addressing the challenges of climate change. Indeed, at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit, Mayor Robertson showed national and global leadership by arguing for a better Canadian approach to carbon emissions. He also chairs the FCM’s Big City Mayors Caucus.