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Vancouver councillor 'painfully aware' of affordable housing crisis

Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs says the City is "between a rock and a hard place" when it comes to affordable housing.

"I am very proud of the work we've done, but also very painfully aware that it's inadequate," Meggs told a crowd at Wise Hall in East Vancouver's Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood Monday night.

The Vision Vancouver-sponsored event saw Meggs and three experts debate the achievements, challenges and future steps for addressing the issue.

The councillor said the provincial and federal governments need to be more involved for Vancouver to reach its affordable housing goals -- a point he's made several times in the past.

But the audience was hoping for more than a discussion of who is responsible for what. "How do we afford to be able to live in Vancouver? What do you suggest we do?" asked Faye Leung, a senior resident who is struggling to pay her rent.

It's not new that lower to middle income families are finding it hard to find affordable places to rent, much less buy, across the city.

Panelist Lyndsay Poaps, a former parks commissioner, believes rental housing is unreliable and expensive.

"The rental stock is not designed for families," she said. If renting-for-life is the new norm, the city needs to provide renters with more secure tenure, she said.

For Jim O'Dea, co-founder of Terra Housing, which develops social purpose real estate, the answer to affordable housing lies, in part, with an increase in density. "Density is one of the biggest opportunities that municipalities have to create affordable housing."

Meggs said the space needed to make housing more affordable is not available in empty lots, which are not designated for the purpose. Yet he challenged the notion that the city is full.

"We are a long way from that. We have some neighbourhoods that have actually lower densities than they had 20 years ago, like Grandview-Woodlands and Dunbar. There is room to make these changes."

According to the councillor, land is beginning and the end of the conversation.

Co-op housing is another model the city should be considering, said Yuri Artibise, the vice president of the Cooperative Housing Federation of B.C.

He believes co-ops provide a number of perks, including security of tenure, a sense of community and affordability for tenants with a range of incomes. But as many co-ops reach the end of their federal operating agreements, their existence as affordable housing options is threatened.

What's more, Artibise doesn't think the answer is waiting for senior levels of government to take action.

"I am not going to wait until [the provincial and federal governments] decide to open their wallets. I am going to want to find other models to create safe, reliable, community-oriented housing," he said.

Emi Sasagawa is completing a practicum at the Tyee.

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