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.


Vancouver has a long history of playing shell games with homeless shelters. Shelter residents have created the term “shelter shuffling” to communicate the harsh reality of being constantly displaced between shelters, either due to arbitrary time-limits placed on residents or to the government’s arbitrary closure of entire shelters.

In Vancouver few people understand that shelter residents have no rights and can be arbitrarily evicted with no right of appeal nor the possibility of an independent hearing process under Provincial law. The length and conditions of a shelter resident’s stay are entirely dependent on the unaccountable decisions of shelter providers. Although shelter providers are obliged by guidelines to clearly communicate the rules to the residents, this is rarely if ever the case.

This precarious existence of shelter residents has been mirrored by the uncertain existence of the shelters themselves, increasingly put on the austerity chopping block of provincial and city governments. These two aspects of the homeless shelter system — lack of rights and lack of a stable and adequate number of shelters — are intimately connected. This point has recently been voiced by the DNC Shelter Committee (Downtown Eastside Neighborhood Council), whose members have written the Shelter Bill of Rights.

According to Roland Clark, an organizer with the committee, “shelter closures are connected to the lack of rights for shelter residents, since shelter residents with secured rights would be able to organize to keep the shelters open.” There have been moments of successful fightback, like when the residents of Central Shelter reversed the provincial government’s planned closure of the building. But in most cases organizing has been difficult, resulting in eviction, burnout or arrest. The First United shelter is a case in point, where hundreds of residents have been turned away and arbitrarily evicted over the course of the past year.

On Saturday, September 2 2012, the Vancouver Police Department once again demolished the cart of a homeless DTES resident. The cart contained personal belongings and all the necessities for surviving on the streets: clothes, bedding, tools and other essential objects.

The VPD prohibits the demolition of a homeless persons’ property under the Abandoned Property Policy, but officers have repeatedly violated the policy.

Last summer the Mainlander published an article on VPD shopping cart demolitions. In response to a documented VPD removal of a shopping cart in the DTES on June 25th 2011, the Mainlander criticized the VPD’s continued contravention of their own operating guidelines. The article noted that by the summer of 2011, nothing had changed since lawyer David Eby documented the removal of a shopping cart in February 2009.

In response to the complaint of the June 25th 2011 incident, the VPD issued a statement on July 5, 2011, admitting the misconduct: “The Vancouver Police Department has taken steps to remind every officer that if they come across items that appear to be abandoned, and that need to be removed from the street for the safety of the public, or for the safekeeping of the items, the property is to be safeguarded until the owner can be identified and retrieve their items.”

This Saturday’s demolition took place at 8pm near Insite on East Hastings. Against a crowd of protesting DTES residents and neighbors, the officer responsible stated that the removal was justified by the fact that the owner of the cart had been absent for several days. But according to staff at Insite, the cart had been there for less than 12 hours.

The cart contained bedding and tools neatly tucked away into separate containers under a meticulous rain-proof cover. The owner of the cart had been in Surrey for the day and for obvious reasons was unable to bring the cart with him.

Across the street from the cart incident lies an abandoned site owned by private real-estate developer Marc Williams. The site contains garbage and rubble, all of which were allowed to ferment for more than a year despite numerous formal complaints against the smell and presence of rats from DTES residents and tenants of neighboring hotels. The city’s message is that a rich person’s garbage is outside the law, while a poor person’s livelihood is garbage.

From their current actions, it is clear there has been no change in VPD’s practice of handling abandoned property in contravention of official policy. This violation of basic rights should come as no surprise. The city’s aggressive revitalization plan for the DTES is being pushed ahead by city hall, despite overwhelming opposition and protest by residents. Vision Vancouver’s Revitalization Strategy for the DTES is part and parcel of the criminalization of poverty and neither can be considered in isolation. As such the demolition of poor peoples’ homes and property is not only a failure on behalf of the VPD but a systematic failure of the city.


The already dire housing crisis in Vancouver is about to worsen with the mass expiration of funding and operating agreements for twenty-five thousand social housing units. By 2033, 99% of operating agreements across the country will have expired if current austerity measures are not reversed, amounting to $3.5b of reduced government expenditures annually.[1] Presently there are no federal or provincial plans to initiate new or extend existing operating agreements. The forecasted federal funding for non-profit housing providers in BC for the year 2030 is zero.[2] This process of funding-expiry has already begun, with tenants experiencing the first wave of this unprecedented withdrawal of public housing funds. Unless a popular struggle takes shape, the entire country will move in the direction of a massive loss of public housing.

Neoliberal policy makers and urban think tanks have framed this mass expiry in optimistic terms. The disappearance of funding is presented as an “emerging opportunity,” to quote a recent report by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association. [3]  In the report, the Association explores how the opportunities of austerity can be “capitalized” upon, paving the way for the implementation of disaster capitalism. As it has often been proven under neoliberal governments, the deployment of a shock becomes the necessary grounds for the introduction of market reforms, with the ultimate goal of privatizing public assets and services.[4] In the case of affordable and non-market housing, the disaster comes in the form of a funding expiry, for which the recommended strategies of “ensuring future viability” entail the introduction of market reforms. In a drastic change in direction, not-for-profit housing operators are slated to be phased out to make way for pro-market operating bodies.


DTES Community organizing against Sequel 138 condos shows united opposition to displacement by gentrification.

The date is looming for the City’s Development Permit Board meeting to decide the fate of the Sequel 138 condo proposal. It’s been a year since nine major Downtown Eastside (DTES) community organizations formed a coalition to stop Sequel 138 condos. Their campaign involves thousands of  DTES residents, workers, social housing providers, artists… united in opposition to a bad proposal for a destructive condo project in the heart of the most vulnerable urban community in the country.

In the midst of a gentrification storm in the Downtown Eastside with more than 688 new condo units proposed or planned this year, the Sequel 138 proposal at the Pantages site might seem like a strange project to target. It’s only 79 condos, it doesn’t require a rezoning, and it includes 9 units of welfare rate social housing. But the Sequel project is different because it is the first condo proposal ever made in the DTES Oppenheimer District, where 80% of the residents are low-income and most live in substandard SRO hotel rooms.

Most importantly the Oppenheimer District was highlighted by city planners and lawmakers (back when they actually talked about social housing) as the area expected to host most of the needed social housing for the DTES. To make this goal possible they drew up an “inclusionary zoning” bylaw to keep land prices and rents low and keep the real estate speculators at bay: any new development in the area must include 20% social housing. Now, if the city gives a green light to the Sequel project, speculators and developers will swarm over the cheap land as investment opportunities.