Housing budgets not much help to DTES

Sometimes people say, “I don’t pay any attention to politics. It doesn’t affect me.” Well, if you are a person who needs decent housing politics does affect you, a lot.

One of the most important things that governments do is decide how much money to rake in each year and how much money to spend each year.

They make all kinds of decisions about this and call it the annual budget. The federal government in Ottawa released their budget in February. The provincial government in Victoria released theirs in January.

The money government rakes in is mostly from taxes which can be taxes on poor people, middle income or rich people, or corporations, or various fees like health care premiums. The money it spends can be for running the post office, fighting the war in Afghanistan, paying for Olympic security costs, or providing welfare and building housing that low income people can afford.

If our provincial and federal politicians wanted to help people who are homeless or living in crummy hotel rooms, they could put money into their budgets for housing. What did they do?

The province said, “…new housing will be supported by a new integrated, personalized homelessness intervention strategy and a new community safety [plan].” To see what the government really means by this you have to go to the actual budget: $30 million for homelessness in 2008/09 (that’s last year!) to acquire and renovate rental properties (probably the old hotels in Vancouver and other places). Then in another part of the budget there is $110 million over the next 3 years, or about $37 million a year. Let’s see, the units in the Lux, that new social housing building next to the bottle depot, cost about $187,000 each. So $37 million a year means about 202 units a year to be spread over the whole province, if the money is spent on new units. For comparison, the City of Vancouver says it needs 800 units of new social housing a year and we still have over 2000 homeless people in the Vancouver region. What did the federal politicians put in their budget for housing? $1 billion over 2 years to renovate existing social housing. Nice, but its not new housing. $400 million over 2 years for social housing for seniors. $75 million over two years for social housing for people with disabilities. $400 million over two years for new social housing and remediation of housing on First Nations reserves. And $200 million over two years for social housing in the North. Note: nothing for homelessness. Nothing for replacing crummy hotel rooms. Nothing for building housing for people who are just plain poor. And note how it’s all spread over two years so it looks like twice as much as we’re really getting per year. And figure that BC gets about one-tenth of these amounts since the spending is for the whole country.

So, while some of this spending is definitely better than nothing, or than cuts, it won’t do much to help people in the Downtown Eastside.

Both levels of government are only agreeing to spend this money on
housing because we’re in a recession and building housing creates jobs and puts money into the economy. But we need billions spent on housing every year to house all the homeless that resulted when governments cancelled social housing programs in the 90s (federal) and in 2001 (provincial). In any event, if you are a homeless person, and the government decided to put an adequate amount of money into social housing, you might be able to get into a nice apartment, like the ones at Lore Krill, or Bruce Eriksen Place or Native Housing like J. C. Leman on Pender by International Village. ~JS

One of the 14 sites ready for supportive housing in Vancouver is waiting for senior government funding. Location: 505 Abbott Street (& Pender Street). It will be operated by Atira and will have 120 units.

What is CCAP doing about this?

Watch for actions. In the meantime, CCAP will go to city council next week to demand they speed up the permits on the 12 sites and to find a way to get the province to fund these sites with their $250 mil Housing Endowment Fund before the May provincial election.

CCAP helped get an article published in the Globe and Mail last week about the 12 sites. CCAP sent MLA Jenny Kwan a note about the 12 sites and 3 pages of discussion between her and Housing Minister Coleman on the 12 sites can be found at: http://www.leg.bc.ca/HANSARD/38th5th/H0224am-09.pdf ~wp