Mayor of Vancouver wants the city to become a global model for affordable housing


Kennedy Stewart sees cooperative and nonprofit housing as the keys to an accessible future.

Arlen Redekop / PNG

Kennedy Stewart has an ambitious vision for the resolution of the Vancouver housing crisis as described during an affordable housing conference on Sunday.

The newly elected mayor told more than 1,400 housing advocates, providers and policy experts at the Housing Center conference that he wants to see the city become a global model for affordable housing.

"You can be globalized, and that is that these forces, those forces of the world that are pushing you, determine what your city is," he said. "Or you can be globalist … a much more hopeful way of looking at the governance of the city, and that is, no, not only will we face our challenges, but the way we find them will show to other cities around the world how it can be done. "

Stewart was among the half-dozen Sunday speakers that included Boston University. Premier John Horgan and Selina Robinson, the provincial minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

"We went as far as we can in terms of having the market supplying our housing here," Stewart told participants. He said governments now have to focus on boosting cooperatives and other non-profit institutions in Vancouver.

"If not, our city will crumble," he said.

The discussion panels scheduled for the three-day conference pointed to some of the greatest housing challenges, including public consultation, high rent costs, relative scarcity of support units, and inadequate support for those seniors.

Others, including Lani Brunn, have focused on the long-running homeless crisis in the region. The social and community planner presented some of the findings from a series of in-depth interviews with women at Downtown Eastside in Vancouver as part of their master's degree studies in Simon Fraser University's urban studies program.

In interviews with 11 women, she found many points in common. Six were 55 or older, five talked about mental health problems, three in the sex trade and two women were homeless at age 12, among other similarities.

Brunn also found some differences. She said that about half of the women she spoke to wanted to live outside the DTES. The other half preferred to remain in it, by the community it offered.

Brunn presented an anecdote to illustrate this point. One woman told Brunn that she needed housing, but insisted that she be outside DTES, where she feared she would return to the sex trade and drugs. She ended up in a beautiful new building, but it was at DTES. When Brunn later visited her in the new house, she was in tatters and covered in graffiti. It looked like the walls were crumbling.

"This is how depression looks," said the woman to Brunn. "Home is where you can sit outside without people asking about drugs or for a girl who works."

Nothing was more important than a roof over his head, Horgan told the participants.

"Housing is in a fundamental crisis right now," he said. "If you're fighting for shelter, you're surfing the couch, living in your vehicle or on the streets of British Columbia, it's a crisis and it's a deep crisis. This did not happen overnight and will not be resolved overnight. Not only is it difficult to stay, it is also infiltrating the middle class and those with moderate incomes who are facing the crisis month by month. "

Robinson talked about some of the obstacles that have remained, including finding land to build and persuading people to host housing developments in their communities.

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