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Empower the city to address Vancouver's housing crisis: COPE

Amid disappointing numbers for this year's Metro Vancouver homeless count, the Coalition of Progressive Electors is proposing a new set of solutions, starting with the creation of a city-run housing agency.

In a discussion paper released today, COPE looked at what six other cities in North America, Asia and Europe are doing to address their own housing crises and proposed 10 recommendations for ending Vancouver's.

"In 2008, Gregor Robertson campaigned on ending homelessness in Vancouver. After six years, homelessness is now the highest it's ever been. Renters pay the most unaffordable rents on the continent," said Sean Antrim, executive director of COPE, in a media release.

The problem lies, in part, with diffused responsibility in the provision of affordable housing. According to the report, there are many different agencies at different levels of government providing various services. Centralizing power with the creation of a municipal housing agency would be the most effective way to deal with Vancouver's affordable housing crisis, COPE argued.

In this scenario the city would become a real estate developer. The housing authority would build housing units that meet the needs of low and moderate-income residents, said Antrim. Generated revenue could then be used to fund more projects or to advance other affordable housing goals.

Other cities in B.C. are already doing this. The Whistler Housing Authority, for example, houses 82 per cent of the city's employees.

In the past, Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs has argued the city has "the best record in the region" for affordable housing initiatives, but that it cannot adequately address housing needs without the cooperation of senior levels of government.

Antrim said a housing authority has not been created because it would compete with private developers that fund Vision and the BC Liberal campaigns. Meggs denied this.

"We have been talking about the creation of a housing authority since the Task Force on Affordable Housing. That's been our direction for some years," Meggs said.

According to the councillor, there should be a report to council about the framing of a housing authority within the next couple of months.

Other key recommendations in the COPE report include developing clear and consistent definitions of key policy terms, such as "affordable housing," ensuring resident participation in decision-making and lobbying all levels of government to fund social and affordable housing.

Existing programs, particularly those under the city's Housing and Homeless Strategy, put too much emphasis on short-term solutions, COPE argued. Current language used to address the housing crisis emphasizes supporting, incentivizing, facilitating and restoring existing housing instead of creating new opportunities.

The discussion paper also draws parallels between cities like New York, Singapore and Stockholm that have adopted desirable housing policies. In Antrim's opinion, studying other successful cases should have been the mayor's first step to address the housing crisis.

Emi Sasagawa is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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