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Campbell promises $172M for Vancouver social housing

Premier Gordon Campbell pledged $172 million today for six social housing developments in Vancouver, as part of close to $800 million in infrastructure spending.

“Homelessness is about people, it is not about a great big huge problem, it’s about individual problems that we have to deal with one person at a time,” said Premier Gordon Campbell, emphasizing the need to connect the housing with supports and services.

Eleven buildings are expected in other municipalities including Surrey, Abbotsford, Victoria and Campbell River at a cost of $130 million.

Building on the six Vancouver sites – which are expected to create 569 units for people at risk of becoming homeless – should be underway by early summer.

Social housing advocates are pleased that there is finally action, but are wondering why there has been such a delay and why only six have been announced.

“The construction was supposed to be underway by the Fall of 2008,” said Calvin Baird, a member of a faith-based organization called Streams of Justice. “Nothing has been started on any of these sites.”

The group is holding a series of demonstrations around Vancouver today to demand more action on social housing. They voiced their concerns in an informal conversation with Housing Minister Rich Coleman following today’s press conference at Kindred House, a recently completed housing building in the downtown.

In November 2007, 12 sites were announced in a memorandum of understanding between the province and the City of Vancouver.

At that time, Coleman was hoping to have ground broken on at least six of the sites by the Fall of 2008. That timeframe would have allowed for the possible completion of one or two of the buildings by the 2010 Olympics but that goal is no longer be possible.

Construction will begin this spring and early summer and the premier estimated most of the buildings will be completed 14 months after that. He could not say when the other remaining six sites will be announced.

The delays have been due to permit issues and not because of funding, Campbell said.

But Baird questioned whether there is a lack of will on the part of the government, citing the contrast between Olympic building projects and social housing.

“The Olympic skating oval in Richmond was completed a year ahead of schedule,” he said. “Are they communicating to us that [housing] isn’t as important?”

Other infrastructure spending announcements today include $424 million for building and renovating primary and secondary schools.

Another half million will be spent on 57 projects for correctional and public safety facilities around the province.

Campbell said current economic conditions including low interest rates and commodity prices make this an ideal time for taxpayer dollar value.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Hook.

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