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Vancouver’s affordable housing ‘intentions’ nothing but empty words

In the annals of meaningless, chock-full-of-weasel-word news releases from the City of Vancouver, this one has to take the cake.

Some of you already know the reality of looking for an "affordable" rental home in this city.

Finding a decent rental home, one that suits your needs and one that you can afford, remains the domain of the unbelievably lucky or the well-connected.

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Rents have outstripped incomes generally.

Availability is virtually non-existent, unless you're okay with spending most of your take-home income on rent and you don't mind living in 500 square feet. With a bike locker. Yay.

So when a City of Vancouver news release turned up in my in-box this week with the headline "City quadruples its housing targets for purpose-built rental homes," I had to laugh. To be honest it was more of rage-laugh. Okay, it was just rage.

Eliminating homelessness was also a "target." The latest Metro Vancouver homeless count, conducted last March, showed that the number of unsheltered homeless people has remained unchanged, while the number of sheltered homeless people – those in emergency shelters, transition houses, detox facilities and the like – has increased 26 per cent.

But back to the weasel words. "The City of Vancouver announced its intention to enable 72,000 new homes in Vancouver over the next 10 years," it says.

Seriously, who is writing this stuff?

"Intention to enable?"

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Let's be ultra-generous here and support the "enable" part of that. So that means putting up city-owned land, somehow getting senior levels of government on board, persuading developers to build rental housing and making drastic changes to zoning bylaws, right?

Oh wait, it's an "intention." I may be alone in this, and I'm certainly not proud of it, but I intend to do a lot of things that never amount to much.

And it only gets worse: "The City has set interim targets to help enable 72,000 new homes across the city to provide residents with the housing they need, and can afford – now and into the future."

The city is enabling new homes? I have no idea what that even means.

And then we go – in bullet points – from "intentions" and "enabling" to definitive statements, as though this is all somehow real.

  • Just under 48,000 of these new homes will be rentals.
  • Nearly 29,000 of these new homes will be for families.
  • More than 12,000 of these homes will provide social service and supportive housing for lower-income residents – doubling the city’s target for lower-income households.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, one target has been doubled, while another had been quadrupled. (Please hold your applause until the end.)

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But these aren't real homes. They are, as stated, intentions and targets. Right now, none if it makes a lick of difference to anyone who is desperately hunting for an affordable place to live. Which is, I suppose, why the news release emphasizes "into the future."

Then there is the extraordinary quote attributed to the mayor: "Nothing is off the table as the City aggressively pushes forward in delivering as much housing as possible to keep Vancouver affordable now and into the future."

"Nothing is off the table?"

I'm thinking some things must be off the table. For instance, a low-income apartment building on a nice corner lot in Kerrisdale. Is that not off the table? How about a 20-storey purpose-built rental building at King Edward and Dunbar? We're okay with that? Because the neighbourhood fought a six-storey seniors' home like it was the end of days.

As for the phrase "keep Vancouver affordable", he can't seriously think that anyone or anything has kept Vancouver affordable.

When will I believe any of it?

Show me that the vacancy rate is increasing. Show me that rents are dropping. Show me that people feel secure in their rental homes. Show me that they can sleep at night not worried about what they'll have to give up to pay the rent this month, that they'll be "renovicted," or that their rented condo will be sold out from them or turn up on Airbnb.

Show me the numbers in the next homeless count. Show me that they haven't gone up. Show me the new supportive housing.

And please, show me that a family with a couple of kids and a household income of less than six figures can still afford to live here.

But enough already with the weasel words and the spin and the puffery.

Yes targets are good, and when the city comes close to reaching any of them, we'll all notice.

I swear, we will.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 88.1 FM and 690 AM in Vancouver.

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