Housing budget too tiny, city warns

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Analysis says figure in B.C. budget won’t help much to end homelessness

Frances Bula

VANCOUVER – The province’s so-called housing budget has so little money for actual housing that Vancouver will be lucky to get half the units it needs to meet its target for cutting homelessness by 2010, says an internal memo from the city’s housing director.

And those potential 200 units a year will only be possible if the city gets additional money from B.C. Housing, Vancouver Coastal Health and whatever proposal Ken Dobell, the premier’s ex-adviser, comes up with for the city, Housing Centre head Cameron Gray advises city councillors and staff.

As well, Gray notes in his three-page analysis of last week’s provincial budget, the city should be getting the money now to build the targeted 1,000 units so they’re ready in time for the Olympics.

It is “disappointing and perplexing” that the province chose to park $250 million in a housing fund, Gray wrote, instead of building the 1,000 units needed right away.

“[The] $250 million would pay for 1,000 units of affordable housing, enough to build out all 12 of the sites the city has purchased and set aside for affordable housing,” says his memo.

“All three levels of government committed to making the 2010 Winter Games socially sustainable and inclusive. The appropriate endowment would be 1,000 units.”

That sober second look prompted Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan to call both the premier and Housing Minister Rich Coleman on Friday to ask when Vancouver will get the help it needs for its homelessness crisis.

Sullivan, after meeting with Coleman Sunday afternoon, said he remains confident that the province will ultimately come through with innovative solutions to providing housing in Vancouver.

In an interview, Coleman also insisted that there is much more to come in terms of new housing.

He said there will be much more news in the next 60 days, but he can’t give any details yet.

Coleman agreed that the $38-million figure that the budget claimed would provide “an estimated 600 beds in shelters, transitional housing and permanent housing,” isn’t nearly enough money to do that.

But, he said, it is seed money that his ministry can use as a lever to get money from other sources.

As well, his ministry has been given a chunk of unallocated cash that he will also be able to use as a lever to get other money.

“The city need not worry. We think we can leverage a lot.”

Sullivan said he now understands that the lack of clarity about what housing money the city will actually get was due to political pressures and the need to keep information confidential.

The result last week was that councillors ended up mistakenly claiming that the budget would allow the city to move ahead immediately and aggressively.

Sullivan himself issued a press release Tuesday saying the budget included “one of the largest investments in social housing in history.”

He also said the budget “offers hope that we can begin development as soon as possible on the 12 sites the city has purchased and earmarked for social housing.”

Gray’s analysis of the budget numbers said the city would be lucky if it can develop two or three sites a year.

That’s if the province commits to money beyond this year for developing housing, which it hasn’t.

“A long-term commitment of stable funding and programs that address the full continuum of need is lacking.”

The budget was touted as committing $2 billion to a housing legacy.

But Gray notes only one-quarter of that will actually go toward affordable housing; the rest is tax cuts. And, of the remaining $500 million, only $139 million is dedicated to new construction.

As a rule of thumb, it costs about $200,000 to build a one-person social-housing unit.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


Comments are closed.