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City of Vancouver puts forward new actions to address the housing crisis for lower income and homeless residents

July 26 2017 The City will create new housing supply and enhance existing rentals for those hardest hit by the crisis

"There is a huge need for housing affordable for people on low incomes, and we're not letting up on finding solutions to help people off the street and into housing, and boost housing security for those on lower incomes," says Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Elderly man with child playing with blocks

Building on yesterday's announcement to enable 72,000 new units of housing across the city, today staff presented plans and put forward bold new actions to address the housing crisis for the city's most vulnerable populations.

By increasing the our target for new units of social and supporting housing by 50%, addressing the immediate needs of more than 600 homeless residents, and proposing strategies to enhance and maintain existing rental properties, we are prioritizing action to create the right supply of housing, with the right supports.

"There is a huge need for housing affordable for people on low incomes, and we're not letting up on finding solutions to help people off the street and into housing, and boost housing security for those on lower incomes," says Mayor Gregor Robertson. "The City will keep doing everything we can to put forward innovative ideas like modular housing, offering City land for affordable housing, building co-ops and expanding inclusionary zoning but we can't meet the need without help from the BC or federal governments. I'm optimistic that all three levels of government are ready to work together to solve homelessness and support our most vulnerable across the spectrum with more secure housing and stronger income and rent supports."

Why we need new types of affordable housing

The need for new types of affordable housing in Vancouver is significant. City staff have identified that there are currently:

  • 18,400 renter households that spend more than 50% of their income on rent
  • More than 2,100 homeless individuals
  • At least 4,000 people living in inadequate conditions (Single Room Occupancy (SRO) buildings)

This total of 24,500 low to moderate income households in need of affordable housing today, is projected to increase to 54,800 by 2026.

"Through extensive public consultation we've heard that Vancouverites agree, the City must prioritize action to address lower income and homeless residents," says Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas, General Manager, Community Services. "With the new ideas and actions presented at Council today, we're looking forward to working alongside partners and senior government to address the housing emergency for those hardest hit."

Actions and new ideas

City staff presented council with a series of actions to build on existing City programs, and new ideas that would require close collaboration with senior levels of government and partners.

Enhance the right supply of housing

Actions to enhance the right supply of housing for lower income households and homeless residents:

  • A 50% increase in social and supportive housing targets to 12,000 new units
  • Addressing the immediate need of more than 600 street homeless residents with a Housing First approach by working with partners to enable 600 temporary modular homes that homeless residents could be offered as soon as possible. We hope to work alongside partners for the development and delivery of homes on underutilized or vacant land, close to transit.
  • Opening 315 year-round shelter beds as a temporary measure until permanent, affordable housing is built. This would help to mitigate seasonal increases in street homelessness.
  • Issuing a request for proposal to non-profits to manage four new social housing buildings resulting in 290 new homes:
    • 95 East 1st Avenue:
      • 135 homes focused on families
      • 10 homes for the Supporting Tenants, Enabling Pathways (STEP) program
    • 1847 Main Street
      • 30 homes for low-income artists (rent geared to income)
      • Onsite artist production studio for residents and Mt. Pleasant artists
    • 1171 Jervis (27 homes) and 1345 Davie (68 homes) with rents from shelter-rate to average West End rents; delivering Housing Vancouver targets
  •  Prioritizing the approval process of affordable housing development by cutting processing and approval times in half for buildings designated to provide affordable housing. Over 20 projects are anticipated to be approved in the next two years, which will provide 800 units in 2018 and 900 units in 2019.
  • Committing to use all tools available to deliver housing, particularly for the most vulnerable, and to be as nimble, effective and efficient as possible in addressing specific housing needs and opportunities when they arise, staff will propose to council a relaxation on Zoning By-Law authority to the Director of Planning or the Development Permit Board. This would enable the city to streamline processes for proposed affordable housing developments where a minimum of 70% of all units in the building are used for low cost housing for persons receiving assistance. An example of housing that would satisfy these established parameters is temporary modular housing, to the extent that at least 70% of all of the units are providing low cost housing to persons receiving assistance.

Ehance and maintain existing rental supply

Actions to enhance and maintain existing rental supply:

  • Requesting provincial assistance for a new SRO Revitalization and Replacement Fund to improve livability in existing SROs. We also plan to:
    • Enhance tenant advocacy and access to information
    • Introduce incentives for non-profit management and offer an SRO Management training program
    • Conduct a review of Health and Safety By-laws to strengthen enforcement tools
    • Increase Single Room Accommodation By-law conversion or license fees to mitigate loss of affordability
    • Expand health supports in privately owned SROs
  • Transitioning tenants who need fewer health support into new social housing. The STEP program vacancies would create new supportive housing options for homeless individuals and SRO tenants with support needs. The process would build on best practices, and coordinated access and assessment that sees health, housing and homeless services work together to best address the needs of individual tenants.

Affordable housing targets

The new targets presented by staff this week are part of the 10-year Housing Vancouver Strategy and part of ongoing public consultation which will result in a full report presented to council in fall of this year.

We anticipate meeting:

  • 24% of the need for lower to moderate income households through new social and supportive housing units
  • An additional 42% will be met through:
    • Market and below market rentals
    • Secondary market rental units
    • Taking action to maintain and enhance affordability in the existing supply
  • The remaining 35% can only be met through collaboration with senior levels of government and partners

We hope to work with both the provincial and federal governments on funding and new initiatives to create opportunities to cover this need.

Regional alignment across all municipalities is imperative to addressing the housing crisis for lower income and homeless residents. We will continue to work alongside Metro Vancouver to reach combined goals of creating more affordable housing and ending street homelessness.