Opinion: What needs to be done to end homelessness

Opinion: What needs to be done to end homelessness

Read Penny Gurstein’s opinion editorial to the Vancouver Sun published May 3, 2014 about the critical need for meaningful action to end homelessness in Vancouver. Penny’s letter calls for improved data on vacant housing in the city, an examination of the effect of city policies like community amenity contributions on reduced housing affordability, and the need for proactive and collaborative action between the city and province.

Find the original article here.

Vancouver’s Rent Bank

The Vancouver Rent Bank: Background, Operation, Analysis
Oren Newson
August 6, 2013

October of last year saw the official opening of the Vancouver Rent Bank (VRB), one of the latest initiatives undertaken by the City of Vancouver in its struggle with the issues of homelessness and housing affordability. The Vancouver housing environment is characterized by the most expensive rental and ownership prices in the country,[1] the highest provincial average of household debt,[2] and a string of municipal policy initiatives aimed at combating homelessness and supporting low-income residents.

The VRB provides emergency one-time financial assistance to low-income individuals and households in danger of eviction by offering interest-free loans of $500, $800, and $1300 for a maximum of two years. It considers applications for loans to cover rental or utility arrears, past due rent, and needed security deposits or first months rent. The bank, which does not provide loans to Vancouver residents already receiving social assistance, is the fourth of its kind in the province and joins the Prince George Rent Bank, the Fraser Valley Rent Bank, and the Surrey Rent Bank, all of which began operating in the last four years. While figures for the number of loans administered by the VRB will likely be released annually, by January of this year it is stated to have provided 48 loans, and received 58 applications.[3] This comment reviews the economic rationale for the VRB, and contextualizes the Rent Bank as a policy instrument in North America and in the Vancouver market.

 Rent Banks in North American Housing Policy

Emergency financial assistance to prevent evictions originates in recognized and institutional form as the Connecticut Eviction Rent Bank Program in 1989, which preceded similar programs in Virginia, Mid-Maine and New Jersey – all of which are recorded as being successful in preventing the displacement of households and the costs associated with evictions and homelessness.[4]

The first Rent Bank program in Canada was established in 1998 in Toronto as part of the Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force and implemented by several community agencies.  The Toronto pilot successfully administered 37 loans with a target demographic of female sole parent households.[5] Though only initially in operation between 1998-2000 (it has since restarted), the Toronto project would influence the development of a rent bank in Ottawa-Carelton, the Ontario Rent Bank Network, and future banks, including three in British Columbia. By 2005 there were 11 eviction prevention programs in Canada offering financial assistance.[6]

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Long proposed shipping-container-social-housing opens

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Recycling used shipping containers for use as social housing units has existed in proposal form in Vancouver since 2010. The project was green-lighted by City Council April of last year with a funding contribution of $90,000, to add to a similar figure from B.C Hydro and a porition of a larger source of funding from the CMHC. The 12-unit, three-storey housing project, helmed by the Atira Women’s Resource Society, was unveiled over the weekend at 502 Alexander Street in the DTES and is the first housing project of its kind in Canada. In a cost comparison statement, Atira has claimed “the hard construction costs were $82,500 per unit, compared with about $220,000 a unit for a conventional concrete housing project Atira recently completed on Abbott Street, which features 320-square-foot homes.” Considerable attention was paid to the appearance of the development, due to the industrial nature of shipping containers.  The units themselves are self-contained, and range from 280-290 square feet. Atira will begin considering tenant applications next week, limited to women over 50 receiving who are receiving social assistance.

To read the original article, click here.

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Local Area Development plan for DTES unveiled

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The City of Vancouver has publicized its development plan for the future of the DTES, helmed by Chief Planner Brian Jackson, in open houses on July 18 and 20th. Public consultation will continue through the summer. The Local Area Plan, as it’s referred to, includes new height allowances of 120 feet at the Main and Hastings intersection, and a target of 60% low-income rental housing in new developments along the Oppenhiemer district. The LAP further “sets 10-year goals to create 800 new social-housing units, improve conditions in 1,500 SROs, and offer 1,650 rent subsidies for low-income residents. It also proposes a target of 1,650 new units of “affordable market rental housing” in the next 10 years.”

Further goals of the plan include densifying the DTES, and adding 10,000 residents to its presently estimated 18,000. Two-thirds of the area’s present residents are estimated to be either receiving social assistance or very poor.

The LAP has been criticized for its lack of clear definitions – which the City has responded by saying it hopes public consultation will contribute to the formulation of all terms and targets in the plans. While there is presently no clear definition of the “social housing” the LAP allocates for, it’s been revealed that the plan is for a variety of below-market rental rates in hopes of achieving a self-funding model for maintenance.

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To read the original articles, click here and here.
To follow progress on the plan, click here.

Canadian housing of most overvalued in world

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The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has ranked the Canadian housing market the third most overvalued in the world, finishing third behind Belgium and Norway (and followed by New Zealand and France). The ranking is based on two ratios, price of homes/rent amounts of homes which measures the profitability of home ownership, and price of homes/income which measures affordability. If the ratios are higher than average for an extended period time, the market is deemed overvalued.

According to the OECD the Canadian market is not only overvalued, but its prices continue to rise. The organization states “Economies in this category are most vulnerable to the risk of a price correction – especially if borrowing costs were to rise of income growth were to slow.” The two specific markets carrying the trend are reported to be Vancouver and Toronto. Despite these warnings, housing analysts in Canada do not expect a severe correction.

To read the original article, click here.
To see the OECD report, click here.

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