Urgent need for affordable housing the responsibility of all

Saturday, May 29th, 2004

Government, private sector have social duty to create, sustain projects: developer

Larisa Saunders And Steve Drake

The 35-year-old Canadian Housing and Renewal Association is a national champion of adequate, affordable housing for low-income and modest-income Canadians. One of its key roles is to heighten public awareness of affordable-housing issues through research, external communications and conferences.

The organization’s annual congress met in Vancouver last month, a gathering that brought together more than 300 housing professionals, policy makers, administrators and opinion leaders from around the country.

BC Housing, a key sponsor, commissioned members of the Print Futures Professional Writing Program at Douglas College in New Westminster to cover sessions. The Vancouver Sun presents work by Larisa Saunders and Steve Drake of that program.

“Eagle feathers fly best when they work together,” said David Seymour of the National Aboriginal Housing Association as he presented five speakers with sacred eagle feathers at the end of a congress forum titled “Affordable Housing: Whose Responsibility is it anyway?”

The forum featured speakers from all levels of government, plus the private and non-profit sectors.

”Safe, secure, and affordable housing is the responsibility of all,” Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell of Vancouver said in opening remarks. “If citizens do not have housing then we do not have a livable city.”

Joyce Potter, chair of the CHRA national symposium, defined the dimensions of the crisis, the urgent need for action and the issues of responsibility from all levels of government, private developers and the community.

“Housing is a fundamental human need,” she said. “The national consensus is that something needs to be done on all levels.”

John Godfrey, parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Paul Martin, stressed that a national housing policy shouldn’t be just a federal policy. “It can’t be us telling you what to do.”

Instead he affirmed that the federal, provincial and municipal governments need to work together within structures that already exist.

John Gerretson, Ontario‘s minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said federal policies must be flexible enough to address both provincial and individual concerns.

“Housing is a basic human right. Policy should be formulated on that principle,” Gerretson said.

Panelist Karen O’Shannacery of Vancouver‘s Lookout Emergency Aid Society said provincial governments need to support the affordable-housing community, providing daycare services, for example. “Housing must be viewed as holistic. That is the only way these programs are sustainable.”

Vancouver Coun. Jim Green said cities are limited in their access to resources and restricted by legislation. As a result, he said, Vancouver has tackled the problem creatively, using all the tools available to it and even creating new ones.

The city, he said, recently purchased the Woodward’s building to help revitalize the Downtown Eastside; legalized more than 20,000 secondary suites; provided bylaw protection to single-room accommodations; and ensured that the 2010 Olympic Village will be converted into non-market housing after the Games.

“Social housing increases the value of an area, it doesn’t decrease it,” Green said.

“By building housing we’re building new people.”

He calls it the architecture of opportunity.

He said the need to overcome Vancouver‘s high land prices has required the city to work with the development community, a relationship that he says has become “quite enlightened.”

Vancouver developer Ward McAllister said all three levels of government need to involve themselves in creating and sustaining affordable housing initiatives, and the private sector needs to play an active role in addressing the gaps that exist.

“We all have a social responsibility to affordable housing. It is the fabric of what makes a community work,” said McAllister, national president of the Urban Development Institute.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

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