Vancouver seeking new model to address serious housing issues facing mentally ill and ‘hard-to-house’ citizens

The City announced today a bold initiative that will propose a new model for addressing the problem of homelessness amongst residents battling addictions and/or mental illness.

“We have always been a city recognized for taking innovative approaches to solving our social problems, and we are going to do it again in this area,” said Mayor Sullivan. “The status quo is no longer acceptable, and this Council is clearly committed to thinking and acting outside the box.”

The City has begun work on the development of a new partnership model that will allow individuals, governments, foundations, and the private-sector to invest in supportive housing for those most in need. In particular, the City is interested in developing a new funding mechanism that would enable corporations and others to donate funds that would be earmarked for supportive housing.

“It has become increasingly clear that the old models of funding housing are not meeting the needs of vulnerable citizens. We must develop a new, more innovative approach — a model that will give the City more flexibility in addressing the chronic shortage of housing,” added Mayor Sullivan.

The City is working with former City Manager Ken Dobell, along with Don Fairbairn, a public-private financing expert, to look at innovative solutions. Both men bring to the table not only significant experience and understanding of public sector processes and innovative financing, but also strong connections to other levels of government, and respect and connections to the private sector and agencies.

“It’s clear that the main mandate to address the issue of housing our most vulnerable still rests with senior levels of government,” says Mayor Sullivan. “When you consider that cities collect only eight cents of every tax dollar, we clearly need to find other sources of funding besides property taxes to help improve the lives of our most needy. By not addressing the needs of these citizens we will continue to pay in other ways as a society, and we will undermine our own safety and livability.”

Vancouver developed a homeless action plan in 2005 that recommended at least 800 units of social housing be built per year with half of those units designated as supportive housing. Meanwhile, through the Property Endowment Fund, the City has also offered 19 sites to senior levels of government for their consideration to construct social housing.

A report to Council on a range of implementation options is anticipated in the Spring 2007.