The 2016 homeless count was just released. A record number of people were reported as homeless this year, 1,847 people, an increase of almost 100 people from previous year. A record high number of recently homeless (people who became homeless in the past year) was also reported. The increase in homeless people was found despite the fact that it was windy, cold and pouring rain on the night of the homeless count.
Carnegie Community Action Project is not surprised by the findings of the homeless count, and we have released our own housing report card for the City (see attached). Unchecked gentrification has been pushing up rents in SRO Hotels in the Downtown Eastside, and in low-income neighbourhoods across the lower Mainland. SRO hotels, often referred to as the last stop before homelessness, has become the first step to homelessness.
The loss of low-income housing, especially SRO hotels, is compounded by the lack of new social housing renting at shelter rate. While the new supportive housing buildings that have opened in the last couple of years rent for $375, these units are simply not enough. Furthermore, new social housing units are often not affordable to homeless people and people most at risk of homelessness. According to recent research by CCAP researcher Gabe Boothroyd (see attachment), less than 6% of new social housing units built in the City between 2012 and 2015 are guaranteed to rent at the shelter rate of welfare ($375).
In the words of CCAP volunteer Harold Lavender, “The report shows that the homeless situation is getting worse and it will continue to do so in the future. This reflects a failure of all levels of government including the City. Without a fundamental change in direction, the problem cannot be solved. “
The social housing needed by the over 100,000 people facing homelessness in BC will only come through tax-based housing programs organized by the provincial, federal and city governments together. However, there is a lot that cities can do to stop the loss of low- income affordable rental housing and to advance the struggle for social housing programs from senior governments in the meantime. To prevent homelessness from rising in the next year, CCAP would like the City to:
- Take stronger measures to protect the existing affordable housing stock, this includes strengthening the SRA by-law and strengthening the definition of SRO conversions to include minor renovations and rent hikes;
- Enforce the Standards of Maintenance bylaw with more frequent inspections, by doing repairs and billing the landlords for the cost, and by reducing time limits that landlords have to fix maintenance problems like heat and hot water;
- Make sure that new social housing is prioritized for people on welfare and renters making under 20k. This means the city needs to redefine social housing so it guarantees the majority of social housing units at shelter rate;
- Create 100% welfare rate housing on 10 city owned sites, 6 of which the city already owns, in the Downtown Eastside.
- Advocate the Provincial government for rent control tied to the unit, not the tenant, for all rental units;
- Lease as many SRO Hotels as possible, provide proper maintenance and stabilize rents;
- Fund the SRO collaborative to increase its capacity to organize in hotels so that tenants have backup and knowledge for how to assert their rights.