Council moves forward on actions to combat homelessness

Mayor hosts roundtable meeting with service providers

Mayor Sam Sullivan has commended yesterday’s decision of City Council to proceed with immediate actions to encourage new social housing development, increase the number of emergency shelter beds for the homeless in Vancouver, and invest in the creation of 44 new social housing units in the former Pennsylvania Hotel in the Downtown Eastside.

The Mayor shared information about the new actions with a group of 20 community organizations and service providers who took part in a roundtable meeting on homelessness in the Mayor’s Office this morning. The group discussed ways in which the City, Regional, Provincial and Federal governments can work collaboratively with community groups and agencies in the inner city to provide emergency shelter and services.

Yesterday, Council voted to direct City staff to ‘fast-track’ the pre-development of three downtown sites currently slated for social housing, and to study ways to introduce more flexibility in the size of new social housing units being developed as a means of creating more units for every social housing dollar invested.

“With this decision, we are now able to expedite future social housing development, take immediate action to provide shelter to more of our homeless population, and undertake a renewed discussion with the provincial government to obtain emergency funding,” the Mayor said.
Based on a motion by Councillor Kim Capri, Council authorized City staff to:

  • Review the Vancouver Charter to identify possible amendments that would support the development of affordable and supportive housing in Vancouver including consideration of property tax relief, transferable density, ending prohibition of rentals in strata-titled condominiums, bonus zoning, and direct density bonusing for developers who build social housing;
  • As a direct means of accommodating the full range of housing needs of the homeless and at-risk, work with BC Housing and provide support for the immediate replacement of existing single room occupancy units with new, well-designed units of greater floor space per occupant; these units must include modern, properly staffed common areas that permit tenants to interact in a safe and healthy environment;
  • Undertake, in co-operation with BC Housing, a “fast-track” process for the design and predevelopment for 3 of the City’s downtown sites designated for SRO replacement housing, including the support services required, reduced parking requirements, and capital and operating budgets, in anticipation of future senior government funding for housing for vulnerable and at-risk populations;
  • In co-operation with BC Housing, immediately open all emergency shelters with staff, as well as review the plans for cold/wet and extreme weather shelter for the 06/07 winter to ensure that shelter space is available to accommodate the homeless in need of and seeking shelter, and report back to Council by the end of November if there is a need to expand the winter shelter capacity in the city; and
  • Request that the Province provide emergency funding for the Single Room Accommodation (SRA) designated buildings in the City to ensure they continue to be viable and properly maintained and managed, and that the City administer the funds in the context of the enforcement of the City’s by-laws including entering into agreements with SRA owners to ensure they manage and maintain their buildings in accordance with City by-laws and provincial legislation.

The Mayor has noted that, while the responsibility for development of social housing is within the mandate of the provincial and federal governments, the City of Vancouver is a leader amongst Canadian municipalities in investing in housing.

The City owns or has options on 19 vacant sites that it has earmarked for development into social housing, and awaiting funding from senior levels of government. The City has worked to secure 500 new units of low-income housing with many becoming available over the next few years. Of the over 19,000 existing social housing units in Vancouver, 36% are located on city owned land.

Currently, it costs approximately $200,000 to construct the average social housing unit for a single occupant. Council’s decision provides City staff with greater flexibility to maximize every dollar committed to social housing in Vancouver, in order to achieve the development of additional units in a range of sizes.

“Yesterday’s decision represents a bold step forward in the City of Vancouver’s ongoing efforts to address the homelessness crisis in our City,” said Mayor Sullivan. “I look forward to continuing to work with the provincial and federal governments, as well as service providers in the community, to find long-term solutions to this problem.”