Vancouver’s 2016 homeless count report online: Some questions

Homeless 2016 report, Fig 1, trends 2005 to 2016Vancouver’s 2016 homeless count results were presented to City Council on May 31, 2016. Homelessness is on the rise.

Here is the link to the agenda, staff report, staff presentation (Housing and
Homelessness Report Card: Part 2), Council video, and actual report (2016 Homeless Count Report, by M. Thomson Consulting):

Ending homelessness in Vancouver was one of the top election promises that got Vision Vancouver first elected in 2008, with a strong majority on Council, then reelected in 2011 and 2014 with declining majorities. During the discussion of the report during the Regular Council meeting on May 31, the Mayor and his caucus made a concerted effort to blame other levels of government for failing to do their part. But an objective review is needed to examine whether or not the ruling party in Vancouver has been actually exacerbating homelessness.

Some points raised during the Council discussion but not covered in the City’s media release are increases in young people who are homeless, working people who are homeless, people who are newly homeless in the past year, and people from within Vancouver who have  become homeless.

Are some of the City’s own policies driving more people into homelessness? (1) The tardy response to land speculation and the flood of money flowing into Vancouver’s real estate (for the 2011 reelection campaign, Robertson indicated he had no intention of addressing foreign speculation in Vancouver real estate). (2) The numerous spot rezonings and extensive area rezonings, which vastly increase development potential and boost speculation and profit-taking. (3) Decisions approving the relentless gentrification of lower income neighbourhoods. And more.

In “Only fraction of new social housing units in Vancouver guaranteed for low-income people,” by Gabe Boothroyd (May 31, 2016), The Mainlander provides an incisive critique and analysis of the City’s actions and policies. Excerpt: 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 author, 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. A large proportion of the City’s new social housing is also out of reach for the 51,000 renter households who make below $30,000 per year and who are experiencing the brunt of the housing crisis. If “affordable housing is something that somebody can afford,” to quote Vision Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang, who is that somebody?

… The lack of social housing units for people on welfare, can partly be explained by the fact that in 2014 the Vision Vancouver City Council passed by-laws to strike the old definition of “low-cost housing” and replace it with a new definition of social housing. … The revised definition stipulates that social housing, outside the Downtown Eastside, is any project that is all rental, is owned and operated by a nonprofit or government agency, and rents at least 30% of the units at a maximum of BC Housing Income Limits (HILs) rates. HILs rates are essentially average market rents in Vancouver: $962 for studios, $1,062 for one bedrooms, $1,300 for two bedrooms, and $1,612 for three bedrooms…. To make matters worse, these rental rates are also rising fast. For example, in 2014, the HILs rate for a bachelor was $875 and two years later it is almost $100 more. So to recap, under the new definition of social housing, 30% of units in any given social housing project have to rent just below average market rents, while the other seventy per cent of units can be rented for much higher. All of these units are counted in the City’s tally of 1,683 units of new social housing.

Excerpts from the City of Vancouver media release follow:

Media release from City of Vancouver, 31-May-2016.

The tenth annual homeless count in Vancouver, held on March 9 and 10, 2016 found 1,847 individuals facing homelessness; an increase of almost 6 per cent over 2015, which counted 1,746 individuals. Of those counted this year, 539 were living on the street and 1,308 living in shelters, compared to 488 street homeless and 1,258 sheltered in 2015.

Actions taken by the City to address homelessness include:

Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency
The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) will work to enable new affordable housing in Vancouver for residents from all income groups, with a goal of 2,500 new affordable housing units by 2021. VAHA has selected development partners and is progressing in the development of 11 sites, designated by council to deliver 1,350 units as part of its 2,500 target. A range of housing will be provided for homeless, youth, aboriginal and families, as well as working people on low to moderate incomes. A total of 500 units are due to start construction in 2017. In 2016, VAHA also launched two modular housing projects for people on fixed incomes. The report on VAHA, presented at council today can be found here:

Shelters and Outreach
During the 2015/2016 winter, the City of Vancouver partnered with BC Housing to open 210 shelter beds, the largest number of shelter beds to date. Since 2009, over 1,000 individuals have been housed through the winter shelter program.

Temporary Housing
The City has opened 392 rooms of temporary housing since 2014 to provide housing for street and sheltered homeless residents while more permanent housing is being built.

Single Room Occupancy Hotels
In 2015, the City amended the SRA By-law to better protect low-income tenants facing displacement, improve conditions and maintain affordability in stock. Over $900,000 in grants have been provided to non-profits from the City for upgrades to SRA’s.

Social and Supportive Housing
Now halfway through the Vancouver Housing and Homelessness Strategy, the City has met 67 per cent of its five year target for social housing (1,683 units completed or under construction) and 81 per cent of its five year target for supportive housing (1,844 units completed or under construction).

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