Looking for social housing dollars, Robertson coming up empty-handed

When it comes to new housing commitments, so far Vision have got bupkis

This is this week’s column for 24 Hours

Most people got the message during the 2008 election campaign that Gregor Robertson was the candidate who promised to end homelessness. It’s an issue that polls consistently show is very important to Vancouverites.

In fact, it was the lack of progress on the homelessness file that was cited as one of the reasons for Vancouver Mayor Robertson’s declining public approval rating in 2010.

The issue of homelessness is always thick with politics. Everyone wants to take credit for trying to solve what seems like an unsolvable crisis. Despite not receiving a single new commitment from senior levels of government to finance social housing, Robertson and Vision Vancouver claim that it is their work that is making the difference.

For the sake of the city’s homeless population, I wish it were so.

People say to me that Mayor Gregor’s greatest accomplishment on homelessness has been to create a new category, which he dubs “street homelessness.” It means “people living outdoors.” When Robertson came to office he altered his campaign promise to “end homelessness” by 2015 to ending “street homelessness.”

Adding the adjective “street” was a significant retreat from that original commitment.

The City’s updated focus on moving people living outdoors into shelters made the problem less visible (Robertson brags he reduced “street homelessness” by 50 per cent), but, in reality, Vancouver’s homeless population continues to grow (by more than 12 per cent since 2008). Scarce resources once allocated to building permanent social housing are now diverted into maintaining temporary shelters.

Some numbers provided by the City (table 1), and us (table 2) – click for larger

During the previous term of government under Mayor Sam Sullivan, the City hammered out an agreement with B.C. Minister of Housing and Social Development Rich Coleman to build or restore up to 3,813 units of social and supportive housing. The government before that, under Mayor Larry Campbell, also got commitments for social housing. (See a 2008 housing dept. memo for the complete list)

Robertson’s government, however, has received zero commitments from senior levels of government for new social housing.

Long-term solutions to homelessness have been well underway at the city level for years. For example, former city manager Judy Rogers [and adviser to the Premier, Ken Dobell] helped to create the Streetohome Foundation, an innovation to fund social housing through private donors, something that appalled Vision and COPE when in opposition [yet they’re happy to embrace today].

The city also secured federal research dollars to address the scourge of mental illness in the Downtown Eastside, which is the root cause of much of that neighbourhood’s drug use and despair.

If Gregor Robertson is going back to voters for another mandate to solve homelessness, what kind of progress can he show other than housing commitments secured by the NPA, or money generated by Streetohome?

As the mayor cuts the ribbons this year on completed social housing projects, you can bet he and his Vision colleagues will be taking credit for all of it.

That, folks, is just politics.


For more background on the social and supportive housing commitments secured by Vancouver from the provincial government, read this September 2008 CoV memo.

– post by Mike

Looking back at Vancouver 2010, and why it succeeded
Mike De Jong: Lookin' out for Number Two

Broken image or link? Click here to report it or visit citycaucus.com/typo.

About The Author

  • Max

    I am posting this as a reminder of how badly this administration has failed on various levels:
    Vancouver Sun, June 10, 2008
    We are living in the most pivotal time in Vancouver’s history. We face daunting challenges like homelessness, public safety and climate change.
    At the same time we have enormous opportunities with our cultural diversity, emerging green economy and creative realm. To excel on all fronts, we need strong leadership, leadership that has a bold vision for Vancouver and that brings the whole city together to achieve it.
    My vision for Vancouver has four key goals:
    1. End homelessness and spark an affordable housing boom.
    2. Focus on community safety and serious crime.
    3. Make Vancouver the greenest city in the world.
    4. Boost our identity as a creative capital.
    To succeed, city hall will need to empower people and neighbourhoods to make change. These goals won’t be accomplished with more ego-centric and divisive partisan politics. We need a mayor and council committed to being respectful and productive, and to engaging leaders and citizens across the city to bring our best ideas forward.
    Vision Vancouver represents change. I’m honoured to be running for the Vision nomination with Raymond Louie and Al De Genova, two dedicated civic leaders. Together we have built the largest civic party in Vancouver’s history, and one that truly reflects the diversity of our city.
    My Vision campaign has attracted support from across the political spectrum, from the Non-Partisan Association, the Coalition of Progressive Electors, the Greens, Work Less and almost all of the provincial and federal parties. Most exciting has been the groundswell of support from people who haven’t been involved in any party, or now feel compelled to get political for the first time.
    This wide-ranging support demonstrates the appetite for my fresh approach to politics, that sets aside partisanship and focuses on our best ideas and the actions we need to take together. Democratic politics is the most powerful tool we have to make our world a better place. The more of us that are engaged, the faster positive change will happen. I bring that perspective and commitment. My background as an entrepreneur, building my juice business Happy Planet from scratch on forward-thinking principles like healthy food, regional economics and creativity, gave me a very personal understanding of what it takes to create success.
    My years as a Vancouver MLA, fighting for small businesses on Cambie Street and to protect affordable rental housing, gave me firsthand experience tackling the complex challenges that Vancouver faces. Many issues I’ve championed involve both provincial and civic governments. As Vancouver’s mayor, I would continue to be a passionate defender of our city. As the father of four teenagers, I’m concerned about our schools and creating good jobs and the affordable housing that they’ll need. For their sake, I want Vancouver to be the global leader on environment. I will accelerate clean transportation, green buildings, clean energy, local food, and zero waste.
    For our city’s heart and soul, I will support targeted tax relief for small business and incentives for green businesses. I will push for more patios, festivals and zoning for studio and commercial space for artists.
    As a top priority, I want to see a firm commitment to end homelessness, with a clear, business-like approach to providing housing and health care to those in need. It’s time for us all to believe in our city and roll up our sleeves together. We must face our challenges honestly, with smarts and hard work. It’s time for new vision, new leadership, and for Vancouver to rise to its potential.
    I am committed to doing everything I can to be the mayor that Vancouver needs. Let’s be a city that takes care of our own, and inspires the world.
    Credit: Gregor Robertson; Special to the Sun

  • This is part of an email from Kerry Jang a reader sent me (typos are Kerry’s) with Vision’s spin on what they’ve done to get social housing built:
    “When we took office in 2008, we made a business case to the Province to get the suppotive housing sites actually built. Previous to that there was only an MOU and no intent to have them built out in a few years – but we turned that into dollars – 330 million for all 14 sites. 8 uder construction, the rest are soon. The first opened last week on station street. This does not include the funding for temporary shelters, or interim housing at Dunsmuir House and the Bosman which is part of MHCC study. Dunsmuir House is being sued for folks waiting for their permanent home (e,g., a suite in one of the 14 sites) and the Bosman is a big partnership with all three levels of gvt to provide housing care care for 100 of Vancouver’s hardest to house. We have not just been focused on housing, but proper supports and have developed an urban health strategy. Its the four pillars applied beyond addictions. On Tuesday, another 8 million was approved for this year’s capital budget to buy land for more housing, renovate properties, etc. We are now planning for beyond 2013 and the city needs as everything currently under consruction will be built out by 2013.”
    As my column above explains, the “promise” by Coleman & the province was secured before Vision formed government. If you asked Rich Coleman if he never really planned to fund the commitment to housing promised 2006-2008, he would probably laugh in your face. The fact is the Minister immediately provided PDF (property dev’t funding) to scope out the design and costs of all the projects. The province, hit by the 2008/09 global economic meltdown, still came through with the money to build the projects they committed to.
    This isn’t, as Jang and Robertson tell us, “new funding.”
    Also, in today’s Vancouver Sun we see the story about the Mental Health Commission project – the $110-million At Home-Chez Soi study – which was funded by the federal government after a 2008 commitment secured by the previous government. Again, not funding that Vision got for the city.
    As I explain in my article, the only new funding Vision have got is for temporary shelters, to reduce his ‘street homeless’.
    As someone described the use of “street homeless” to me once, it’s like being “half pregnant.” In other words, you either have a home or you don’t. Being “street homeless” you’re still homeless.
    The fact that Gregor Robertson can get away with this little political word play and is not being challenged by the MSM or even housing activists, to me is astonishing. Vancouver’s efforts to get social housing funded are stuck in neutral under a Vision government.

  • George

    To me there seems to be a blurring of facts from Kerry Jang’s e-mail.
    The conversation centers around “street homeless” and hardest to house.
    This is not entirely correct, in the past year the government has been phasing out Community Homes for adults with Mental Illness.
    It was explained to me that some of these adults will be getting suites in these projects. The property that their current homes are located on are to be sold.
    Are we now including these residents as street homeless, and will the 2 communities be mixed as what happened at Steeves Manor with the once stable, seniors housing..

  • Max

    I agree George,
    Addicts and mentally ill should never be housed under the same roof – as they are at the Bosman.
    My previous office was a block down from the Bosman and the drug dealers were circling when the first tenants arrived.
    I was walking home after work one night and saw 2 women, one younger (20 ish) and the other older (35-40) but with addicts it is hard to tell…. buying drugs from a ‘bike drug courier’ directly accross the street from the Bosman. I saw the exchange
    What struck me was the younger woman looked so lost, almost child like, and you could tell she was not mentally as she should be.
    Anyways after the older one grabbed her goods she tried to maneuver through the rush hour traffic, yelling at the other one to follow her. (Thankfully the cars stopped as she dodged through)
    The younger woman stood looking and finally wandered to the crosswalk.
    Back at the hotel, the older woman hit the buzzer to get back in and then was gone.
    If that young woman is not an addict, she will be if she and others like her are not separated and housed in a proper caring unit.

  • “In other words, you either have a home or you don’t.”
    One might suggest that the difference between sleeping outside versus inside a shelter is more than just a question of semantics for those who have no choices beyond those two options.

  • Bill McCreery

    Agreed Max, George. Such a policy is madness (there is no other way to describe this unfortunately).
    I spoke with a lovely lady from the West End seniors complex last fall. They have been putting people with addiction problems in her building as well. She has been threatened and is fearful for her safety. She confirmed that some of the illegal activities the Ministry denies happen at Steves Manor were happening there.
    So now, how can things be made worse? Let’s put the most vulnerable adults in society into this bizarre mix.
    Hopefully the Province and the City will reassess this misguided policy. And, sometimes bureaucrats have to stand their ground and tell the politicians that they can’t cut anymore corners, unless the politicians want to wear the consequences.
    That’s yet another reason why a ‘civil’ civil service is necessary.

  • John

    Yes and Mike’s next sentence is:
    “Being “street homeless” you’re still homeless.”
    which means he gets your point.
    Furthermore, at time the concept of “no choices beyond those two options” is just an illusion created and maintained by sick and unscrupulous people in our society.
    Some might call them poverty pimps.

  • Shauna

    It doesn’t seem like the attack style CityCaucus campaigning for the NPA is working so well:
    “A January/February survey of Vancouver residents by Justason Market Intelligence finds that 51% of decided voters in the City of Vancouver would support Vision Vancouver. Currently, 25% would support NPA; 21% would support COPE.”
    Not that I’m suggesting you stop though. Please continue. An all Vision and Cope council/mayor would be nice.

  • Max

    A Sweet Shauna:
    This is my response to Frances Bula and her blog surrounding this topic. I will also state I have XXX years in media sales….
    My post to Frances Bula….
    Anyone hiring a polling company has the ability to skew the questions to provide them with a favorable result. That is what they are hired and paid for.
    It is far from new a new tatic.
    Any of us, including you Frances, and the Globe & Mail, know how easy it is ; ask your ad people how questions and numbers are manipulated to benefit the client for a favorable outcome or for ‘What Sells’. Frances, cross the floor to those ‘ad’ people…they can help you. (In most newsrooms, there is a distinct separation between advertising and editorial , they don’t talk to each other, even though each hold information that would help each other; clients whisper secrets in all ears… )
    Anything this small is considered an unstable sample size when it comes to advertising sales. And people and/or reports presenting this to a potential client will show a disclaimer that blares *** not stable***
    Ad people would not even present this as a ‘stong point’.
    As for Barb Justason, did not one of her previous ‘polls’ surrounding Vision Vancouver’ come under similar scrutinee?
    Is she and her company on contract with them?
    Why are Vision only using her for their ‘polling’???

  • Shauna

    Max, you’re probably right. The poll doesn’t mean anything. I’m sure NPA numbers are actually way higher.
    Hopefully CityCaucus keeps up their attack strategy and the next poll will be even more wrong.

  • Shauna

    Max, I like Frances Bula’s response to you:
    ” @Max. Okay, I applaud your effort to be a critical thinker but really … you’re going overboard. This is how polling is done. It’s a random sample, which decades of testing has shown to be scientifically valid, if it is truly random.
    And this poll was done by a private poller who, in the past, has produced polls showing that the mayor’s disapproval ratings increased. (See my previous stories and blog posts, plus Citycaucus’s numerous references to her numbers.) ”

  • Max

    Perhaps you would like to note that is prior to my last response to her, which mirrors what I posted on CC in reponse to your comment….
    Frances’s post was to my original comment where I stated the number polled was roughly 1% of the population of Vancouver. It is considered by us ‘media folk’ to be an unstable number. We would never consider using this number to promote a product or trott out in front of a client.
    Scroll down on Ms. Bula’s site.

  • Jason

    Whether the polls are right or wrong the NPA needs to get out with some strong candidates and start framing the debate. Right now the only opposition to the story Vision puts out there is the media, and they rarely follow anything through these days. We need the NPA out there and bringing the issues to the media, providing an opposing view, and challenging Vision on their claims and statements. Geoff Meggs has the last word in every local story, whether it’s pro or anti vision and this has to stop.
    Solomon has his U.S. friends are well organized and well funded…a disorganized NPA is not going to win unless it starts mobilizing now.
    God help us if we end up with Robertson and his jokers again.

  • Max

    I was reading a release on CKNW surrounding recent arrests in the DTES as part of the sister watch program and the fact that 3 SRO’s are under scruitinee for knowing illegal activity was taking place (women being caged in rooms) yet turning a blind eye.
    Great work by the VPD.
    Now, this is the statement by Kerry Jang about the SRO’s:
    City Councillor Kerry Jang says by-law officers have been working closely with police to crack down on shady landlords over the past two years.
    “So, as soon as they find some sort of criminal activity, it is reported immediately. We have been very vigorously enforcing the standards and maintenance bylaw. many of these slum landlords and flophouse owners, as soon as they know we’re coming, have been voluntarily fixing up their premises to make it safe.”
    Jang says, while some violations are immediately corrected many slumlords refuse to cooperate until they’re threatened with legal action from the city.
    Ummmmmm, Pandora House Fire ring any bells?

  • George

    @ Max
    Jang has got to be kidding if he expects us to believe this.
    I had a conversation with Jang last week that had me walking away just shaking my head. He does not get it!!
    Pandora indeed, was Jang not one of the council members that concurred that an inquiry into Pandora was not necessary, sending speakers that had been waiting to speak to Council away.
    Took the death of a young woman pushed/fell from a window in DTES to motive this current initiative.
    If they were aware, for 2 years,of these situations, why not act before loss of life….again.

  • George

    sorry meant motivate…not motive

  • George

    This is my recent comment on Alex Tsakumis site. The reason I point out the relevance is this. Note in the article Inspectors were sent out the next day when the loss of trees was made known…. how long before the prosecutor acted on Pandora, and DTES SRO issues of abuse.
    I would be interested to know which SRO’S were involved…
    George says:
    February 11, 2011 at 10:14 AM
    Quoted from the Courier…
    .The city prosecutor’s office is now handling four cases related to violations of Vancouver’s tree bylaw after another homeowner allegedly removed trees without authorization.
    Eighteen trees were axed on a property at 2008 Southwest Marine Dr. late last week even though the owner only had approval to chop down four diseased trees. A city inspector visited the site Thursday after being told more than four trees were being removed. He issued a stop work order, but returned Friday to discover 14 had come down without approval.
    “My understanding is those 14 other trees [the owner] removed were healthy trees,” said Will Johnston, the city’s director of licences and inspections, noting some of the trunks were six to eight inches in diameter.
    Charges against the homeowner have been referred to the prosecutor’s office–fines could range from $500 to $10,000 per tree for a maximum $140,000 penalty.
    Read more: http://www.vancourier.com/City+targets+latest+tree+bylaw+violator/4264318/story.html#ixzz1DfsGxZ32
    Mr. Johnson stated that after the trees were cut, THE NEXT DAY, his inspectors went out to the property…
    Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here folks, but the impression I walk away with, is that Mr. Johnson, and the city are more concerned with the removal of trees, than the potential of fire, causing loss of life.
    I understand that removal of trees, is a very serious issue that causes land instability, I would just like to point out that priorities are a bit messed up when trees get immediate attention, and human safe living conditions are ignored for months on end….
    I applaud both, Ark and Carlene, for taking the stand they did, again shame on this current administration for putting political agenda before loss of life..
    I’m happy to hear that Carlene is going to sue, a 38 year employee, need not bend to the viciousness of Gregor and crew… you go girl, we are all in your corner!!
    We wish you well…thank you for all your years of service…..

  • Westender1

    Jang also seems to be sorely mistaken in considering the STIR program a “raging success”:
    Jang said this was the first purpose-built rental housing in 20 years. A day or so later an article quoted Gregor as indicating STIR had created the first purpose-built rental housing in the last THREE years. Three? twenty? Who’s counting?
    Raging success? I don’t think so.

  • rf

    oh look! It’s Shauna! One of Joel Soloman’s eco-flakes, who gets paid with tax deductible charity, that is then laundered as salary, which is then donated to Vision!
    Welcome back!

  • Max

    This recent sweep in the DTES and the revelation that women were being kept in cages in certain SRO’s, prompted a memory back to when I was volunteering at the shelter.
    One night this young girl (late teens early 2O’s) came running in. At the time, the shelter was located in the Church at Gore and E. Hastings.
    She was shaking and crying and stated that someone had locked her in a closet for several hours.
    She was too afraid to even look out the windows. She sat crouched and crying. It took a while for staff to calm her down, yet, she did not want the poilce called (and staff cannont contact them without permission).
    The shelter does have a female police office that visits on a reqular basis and many of the women do speak to her about street issues – but you cannot call for any 911 responder if a participant says ‘no’.

  • George

    Great point Max,hard to solve issues without consent.
    Downtowneastsideenquirer.blogspot has been very vocal especially about Ashley, the recent incident of the young woman that was pushed/jumped…
    I don’t think enough people pay attention to that blog, but they should…

  • Shauna or Shawn or whatever

    Do you really think i’m stupid enough to use my real name on a website that is the Glenn Beck of Vancouver politics?

  • George

    well you are referencing an American…

  • Max

    There was another incident similar to Ashely several years previous.
    Word ‘on the street’ was a woman was pushed out a window for speaking to the police about an issue – payback by her pimp.
    Girls at the shelter used to mention it.

  • Max

    She picked the Glenn Beck reference up from Bula’s blog…..
    Some Vision puppet used it in one of his posts.