COVID-19 pandemic highlights need to recalibrate housing system

Three-stage approach will stimulate Vancouver’s economy while meeting urgent housing needs

There will be a new normal and as part of that we need adaptive, transformative change to address vulnerabilities that are already present in our housing system.

Gil Kelley, General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability

April 29 2020 –

In a presentation delivered to Council today, staff demonstrated how existing vulnerabilities in Vancouver’s housing system have become serious threats during the current crisis, and outlined a series of short and long-term actions that will deliver the highest impact housing for those who need it most, and help to recalibrate the housing system so that we are better prepared for the future. 

“This is not a temporary period of emergency measures before a return to normal,” says Gil Kelley, General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability. “There will be a new normal and as part of that we need adaptive, transformative change to address vulnerabilities that are already present in our housing system.” 

In addition to engaging government and sector partners to support priority projects to permanently house our most vulnerable people, the three-stage approach recognizes the vital role housing plays in Vancouver’s economy. As part of a reframed Vancouver Plan that will focus on the COVID-19 recovery and long-term community resiliency, this housing approach will stimulate the economy by generating employment while meeting urgent housing needs.

Emergency response

We are deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of people experiencing homelessness or living in precarious housing situations during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address the needs of residents facing these challenges, a Community Resilience section in our Emergency Response Centre has been established and is taking the following steps to increase safety and housing stability:

  • Supporting prevention, mitigation and containment of COVID-19 infection in homeless and at risk populations through information sharing and additional cleaning of private single room occupancy hotels
  • Activating Emergency Recovery Centres, hotel accommodation, and other options to prevent the spread of the virus and mitigate the demand on our health care system
  • Improving access to basic needs including food, hygiene and income for homeless and SRO tenants
  • Continuing to provide essential services in Gathering Place, Evelyne Saller Cenntre, Carnegie Centre, and through the Homelessness Services Outreach Team
  • Supporting tenants in City-managed housing to prevent and mitigate infection
  • Continuing to work with Federal and Provincial partners to support renters and prevent evictions, temporarily house residents experiencing homelessness in hotel rooms, and permanently house those residents by deepening affordability in non-market housing projects that are under construction and close to occupancy

Phase I: Immediate response actions – April-December 31, 2020

With approximately 15,000 housing units in application or inquiry, immediate actions to address persistent homelessness, support renters, generate employment, and meet urgent housing need include:

  • Prioritize high-impact affordable housing projects currently in the pipeline, including housing geared to shelter rate and low-income households and ‘shovel ready’ affordable and market rental projects expected to initiate construction in the coming months.  
  • Proactively engage private and community housing sector partners to support market and non-market developments while working with government partners to increase affordability in these projects.
  • Prioritize high impact policy work to allow more non-profit and co-op housing, as well and market and below-market rental. This includes implementation of the new C2 “rental bonus” district schedules which will expedite delivery of rental housing in these areas, exploring City-initiated rezoning in the Oakridge Municipal Town Centre, and implementing a faster process to provide new social housing on existing non-profit sites. 

Phase II: Recalibrate our housing system towards a more equitable and resilient city – Next two years 

Housing affordability and homelessness were urgent priorities before the COVID-19 emergency. We need to re-calibrate our work to provide permanent housing for those with the greatest need, create housing that is more in line with local incomes, and ensure our policies reflect the reality that the majority of Vancouver households.  

Over the next two years, the City will work with partners to:  

  • Work with senior governments to provide stable housing for the most marginalized in the Downtown Eastside to accelerate conversion of private SROs to self-contained social housing
  • Prioritize and leverage City housing investments under the Vancouver Affordable Housing Endowment Fund and significantly scale up the community and public housing sector to increase production of non-market housing
  • Work with the federal government and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to accelerate stimulus spending for the creation of new affordable housing and supporting landlords who reinvest in their properties 
  • Ensure housing is used as homes first by prioritizing market and below-market rental housing that meets local needs, rather than speculative investment
  • Continue to work on Provincial reforms for a more proactive residential tenancy regulation security

The current public health crisis has intensified Vancouver’s housing crisis and now is the time to ensure our housing systems become resilient. By laying the groundwork to boost housing delivery in new policy programs and community plans as part of our economic recovery, Vancouver will emerge as a more equitable and resilient city.

Housing and economy quick facts

  • 1/3 of Vancouver renter households (approximately 52,000 renter households) spend over 30% of their income on rent. Of these, over 80% earn less than $50,000/year
  • Over 45,000 renter households across BC have applied for the new Temporary Rental Supplement
  • In Metro Vancouver, finance, insurance, and real estate industries are the top contributors to the regions GDP, accounting for 31% of the GDP (2017)
  • Across BC the property development industry was estimated to employ 233,600 people in direct and indirect positions

View full presentation (1.9 MB)