Monday, July 5, 2010

Good on you Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation

I was delighted to come across the story below in today's Vancouver Sun reporting on Metro Vancouver's decision to make its subsidized family rental units available to families, rather than the older singles and couples who often occupy them. As a member of the Metro Housing Committee, this is something I have been advocating for some time. The fact is, as I have noted elsewhere on this blog, there are hundreds, if not thousands of larger subsidized housing units throughout Metro (including coops and other non-profit rentals) being occupied by singles and couples long after their children have moved out. These households, who may also have much higher incomes, should be asked to make way for more needy households.

While some of the councillors quoted in the story agree, I was surprised by Councillor Geoff Meggs comment that the initiative may be more bother than it is worth. I disagree completely Geoff. It is a lot easier to 'create' a three bedroom townhouse by moving out a couple that does not need it, than by building one from scratch.

Yes, we should continue to press the senior levels of government to provide subsidies to create affordable family units, but why do so when they are not reaching the households for whom they were intended? Here's the story.

As a final comment, in the mid 70's I was the federal government's Special Coordinator overseeing the federal involvement in the City initiated redevelopment of the South Shore of False Creek. Government officials went to extraordinary efforts to ensure a broad social mix in terms of third low, one third middle, and one third high...and the mix between households with children and those without. In the subsequent 35 years, the desired ratios have been distorted since household incomes and compositions changed, but the households remained. There are many 'low income' people living in developments on subsidized city land, who own principal residences elsewhere in the city and province.

These include many people in subsidized coops who are benefiting in a similar way. We should be doing something about this situation both to free up the units, and ensure some greater fairness in terms of who benefits from the taxpayers.

I hope this initiative gets a lot of support. It deserves it since it is about time.


Anonymous said...

In my neighbourhood, this is what already happens with Metro Vancouver social housing, it's not a new idea at all. With devastating results, and with exactly the kind of cold, dispassionate calculation that appeals to middle-class problem solvers and disrupts and terrorizes poor folk in social housing.

In my neighbourhood, in one year, I saw a mother lose the opportunity to reunite with her child, who went into foster care. She was required to keep a bedroom for her daughter for visits. But all Metro saw was that the daughter moved out. So, mother was evicted. No alternate location, no waiting until she could be moved within her neighbourhood or even the complex, it happened within a month.

Likewise with an old man who's wife died. His unit was designated for two persons. He was evicted within a month of her death. Neighbours objected, but they have no say in the rules where they live. The old man was too distraught, refused to move, and his belongings were removed and left by the street for weeks. It was local kind souls, not Metro, who put them under a tarp and protected his things until he finally found a new place.

Nice calculations. But people aren't numbers. The answer to one group not being adequately housed is not to inadequately house others to make room.

These things are described are real, and they happen.

Incidentally, you might tell Metro, and social services, how unrealistic is to require a seperate bedroom for every single child. This makes social housing completely and permanently out of reach for some families.

Thank you.

Michael Geller said...

Thank you for your comments. I hope some Metro Housing officials will address your specific complaints. For my part, I obviously do not condone these actions. What I do support however, is a caring and comprehensive reallocation of units to those in greatest need. This can be done, in a manner that makes it worth the effort.

As a former federal housing official, I can attest to the fact that one of the reasons CMHC and other government housing entities stopped funding new social housing was due to the concern that the housing was not always going to those in greatest need.

There are many needy households with children looking for three bedroom townhouses. I think it is unfortunate that they cannot be housed because a potential unit is being occupied by a couple whose children have left home years ago. This is what I think needs addressing. While I do not pretend to know the exact number of units that might be 'freed up', I am told by Metro officials that the number is significant, and the number is very large, when one considers all the other non-profit rental and cooperative housing developments in the region.

Housing officials should not be callous in their actions, but this initiative should proceed.

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