Opinion

Not Much Vision in Vancouver's New Budget

One suggestion? Reallocate police funds to give people a home, says COPE's Louis.

By Tim Louis 11 Dec 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Tim Louis is a practicing lawyer and advocate for affordable transit and progressive city government. He sat as a Vancouver City Councillor with the Coalition of Progressive Electors from 1999 to 2005, and currently sits on the party's city council committee.

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City hall: Adding to police budget while crime drops. Photo by jan gates from Your BC: The Tyee's Photo Pool.

Vancouver's budget for 2013 is on council's agenda this week and it's yet another disappointment not only for progressives, but for all Vancouver residents.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report "Beyond the 1%: What British Columbians think about taxes, inequality and public services" confirms what progressives have been saying for years: the public is quite prepared to pay more in taxes for necessary public services.

But Vision Vancouver's budget raises taxes for homeowners and businesses by just two per cent. The capital plan allocates only $9 million to social and supportive housing. Just a three per cent tax increase would generate an additional $7 million which could be used to help address Vancouver's homelessness crisis.

The City department with the largest budget, the Vancouver Police Department, gets a $6.3 million increase. This is on top of the $40 million their budget has increased between 2007 and today.

The police budget increase is in spite of the crime rate dropping steadily according to the City's own figures. Since 2007, violent crime is down 12 per cent; property crime is down 29 per cent. City council should cap police spending and redirect the savings into addressing Vancouver's major crisis: homelessness.

Montreal's view

Over the past few years, the federal government has carried out a pilot project called Housing First. The premise is to provide homeless people with housing and the supports necessary for them to be successful in that housing.

Some cities have tried similar programs. Montreal created a plan called "Operation 15000 Logements" in 2006 to build 15,000 units of housing for low-income people. Five thousand of these units were supportive and community housing built with direct subsidies, and 10,000 were "market interventions." The City of Montreal contributed $100 million to the project. Montreal and other cities see housing as an investment, not just an expense.

Not only is reallocating funds from the police budget to deal with the homelessness crisis the right thing do, but dealing with homelessness would save the City money. According to City Manager Penny Ballem, someone who is "street homeless" costs the City $55,000 per year in services. It costs much less to house people in supportive housing. One study showed the cost for a supportive housing unit to be $36,500. The savings (about $18,500 per person who is off the streets) could then be used by the City to increase funding for other needed programs such as daycare spaces for low-income families, new park space to reduce the City's carbon footprint, increased resources for libraries and for arts and culture.

Vision Vancouver recently passed a motion calling on the provincial government to develop a poverty reduction plan. Unfortunately, no such plan exists at the municipal level. Vision Vancouver's 2013 budget could have included a poverty reduction plan such as the one recently developed in Surrey. It doesn't.

Budget-making is about policy choices. In this budget, the council majority has made some clear choices.

There is little in Vision Vancouver's 2013 budget for progressives to celebrate.  [Tyee]

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