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Vancouver’s Vision is for housing

November 22, 2011

Imagine a Mayoral candidate who put housing at the heart of his election platform.

Imagine a slate of City Council candidates who bragged they had secured funding for 1500 low-income units, opened low-barrier homeless shelters, created new co-op and rental housing – and promised, if elected to do more of the same. Imagine them displaying an interactive city map on their campaign home page, showing the 14 lucky neighbourhoods to benefit from new social housing.

Would they get elected? In Vancouver, they just did.

Last weekend Vancouverites returned Mayor Gregor Robertson to office, and his party Vision Vancouver won 7 of 10 City Council seats.

During the campaign Robertson “cited Vision Vancouver’s work to reduce street homelessness by 82 percent as the ‘crowning achievement’ of his three years at the helm so far.” (Georgia Straight, July 28, 2011)

But he also made housing a mainstream issue. As the Vision website says, “Vancouver is a great city, but its lack of affordable housing is holding us back. It keeps people from moving to our city. It forces our workforce to commute from the suburbs. And it compounds our homelessness challenge. We need a wide-range of new affordable housing, mixed with strong protection for existing housing, to make Vancouver more livable and affordable for everyone.”

He could have been talking about Toronto.

Think about how hard it is for young people to buy a home, or even rent one, in the neighbourhoods they grew up in. According to a recent RBC report, Vancouver is Canada’s least affordable city; a detached bungalow would cost the average Vancouver homeowner a staggering 92.5% of their pre-tax income. But Toronto is in second place and narrowing the gap. Here a bungalow costs 51.9% of the average homeowner’s income – up 2% in the last quarter alone.

Or think about immigrant settlement. Both Vancouver and Toronto depend on immigrants for their future prosperity. But increasingly, immigrants cannot afford to live in these cities. That means we are losing immigrants to other parts of Canada. Toronto’s share of Canada’s immigrants dropped from 50% in 2001 to 32% in 2010, while Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan doubled their share.[1] Those that do come to Toronto live around the city, not in it.

And then there is transit, gridlock and commute times. We think of these as transportation issues, and look for solutions in subways and road widenings. But really, they are housing issues. In both Vancouver and Toronto, people simply cannot find an affordable home near their work. And so we all pay the price in lost productivity and infrastructure costs that drain city coffers.

Vancouver’s housing vision – and Toronto’s

Mayor Robertson’s campaign pledges will look familiar to Toronto housing activists:

  • Implement the city’s Affordable Housing and Homelessness Strategy (Toronto has just such a strategy!)
  • Use city-owned land to leverage funding from senior governments and the private sector to build new social housing (sounds like Regent Park)
  • Foster new laneway housing and secondary suites (not so different from the new Housing Services Act requirements)
  • Fight for renters’ rights
  • Support affordable home ownership options.

The ideas aren’t new. But the political will is.

Vancouver knows it has a housing problem. But in Toronto, housing is the invisible issue. In our last municipal election I can’t remember a single candidate on the left or right who named housing as a priority. If anything, progressive candidates downplayed their housing stripes, and prayed no-one would try to build social housing in their ward in the months leading up to the election.

Vancouver’s got vision. How ’bout us?

[1] Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Starting on Solid Ground: The Municipal Role in Immigrant Settlement (2011), p. 6.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 23, 2011 5:34 pm

    You are such an inspiration!
    As someone who participated in yesterday’s National Housing Day Rally, one wonders if anyone is talking solutions to homelessness other than your blog. And then to learn Vancouver has actually made it a priority!
    Keep up the good work. You are continually lifting our sights…
    I have forwarded a copy of your article to the Chair of TCHC because it is about ‘vision’ and from a conversation I had with him recently, that is what he is looking for.

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