Keynote: The big housing moves we need to make Vancouver work for everyone

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Kennedy Stewart
March 29, 2021

Excerpts from my keynote to the Urban Lands Insitute of BC in conversation with Darcy Matheson, Editor-In-Chief at Daily Hive.

It feels like longer, but it was only a year ago, on March 19th, that I declared the first Local State of Emergency in Vancouver's history. An army of staff worked to keep people safe by opening emergency shelters, setting up meal deliveries, and securing PPE.

All of those daily decisions to protect the lives of people paid off. Vancouver’s performance was among the strongest of any major Canadian city. That didn’t happen by accident. It happened because we stood up for our city and kept one another safe.

And that positive outcome will set us up for a strong recovery. October 2020 data from the Vancouver Economic Commission 
and Conference Board of Canada forecasts strong GDP growth into 2021 – above national and provincial outlooks.

As the months go by, we’ve seen improvement in the unemployment rate too. I’m confident that with our strong public health response, vaccines, and putting in place the right conditions to help our economy succeed, we will move forward stronger.

Things looked very bleak a year ago when I joined Mayors across the country to sound the alarm on the fiscal toll COVID-19 was having on local budgets. Thanks to the hard work of our staff, local unions, & senior government support, we've stabilized our financial position.

The future of Vancouver’s economy is strong with core developments in downtown. We're a global city with great fundamentals. We have smart, talented people and the most diversified urban economy in the country. We're going to come back & come back stronger.

Even though a strong recovery is coming, we can’t just let it happen. It needs to be steered and it needs to be equitable, not just a recovery for the rich. Vancouver must work for everyone.

But we have 3 challenges:

  • Homelessness
  • High rents
  • Impossible purchase costs.

Since becoming Mayor, I've worked to secure nearly half-a-billion dollars for housing from senior governments for modular homes, hotel purchases, purpose build social housing, and shelters. Council also approved my $30 million plan for city-led investment.

Rents have recently dropped a bit due to COVID-19 (fewer international students, tourists using short-term rentals). And the Empty Homes Tax has pushed more units onto the market. We're also approving more secured market and below-market rental housing, but we need more.

Affordable homeownership for the middle-class is simply out of reach, with prices nearing $2M. Why? You can't just blame foreign buyers anymore or money laundering. It's math. We have 68,000 single lots. That's it.

That's why I worked with local architects and builders to develop It's a plan to turn expensive detached houses into multiple units, including homes permanently set aside for middle-class families. But Council chose to delay.

So what does it look like to take action on homelessness? Imagine someone who's lived on the streets for years. They get a spot in modular housing. Access to health care, jobs support. They land a middle-class job, move out and have a place of their own. This is a real story.

What does it mean to get a rental right? Imagine two low-wage earners commuting 1 hour in each direction to work in a restaurant and the hospital. Thanks to one of our MIRHPP units, they can now walk to work and save $500/month. More time, more money, a new future.

What does it mean to get ownership right? Imagine a family who arrived in the ’70s. They scraped enough together to buy a house for $200k. But their kids can't. Thanks to MakingHOME, they turn 1 home into 4, including one for another immigrant family much like them.

This coming year will be pivotal for Vancouver. I'm so excited for our future and what we can do as a city if it truly works for everyone.

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