Loss of shelter beds, delays in new social housing cause for big concern, says Mayor

An update from City staff on housing capacity for the homeless in Vancouver shows a recent loss of winter shelter beds and delays in opening new social housing, which is a big concern for the safety of our city’s most vulnerable residents, says Mayor Robertson.

“In a city with as much wealth, compassion and innovation as Vancouver, there is no reason anyone should have to sleep out on the street at night,” said Mayor Robertson. “The delays in construction for provincial social housing and lack of interim housing to fill the gap are extremely frustrating, given it is our most vulnerable citizens who suffer.

“What we saw today is that this isn’t just a funding issue. The province has made significant investments in new housing, both in Vancouver and across BC, and we’ve partnered successfully with BC Housing to help hundreds of people off the streets and into new homes. But the delays in construction and lack of protections for SROs in the Residential Tenancy Act show we need to double our efforts.”

City housing staff provided an update to City Council on the status of shelters, interim housing, and social housing in Vancouver. The report showed:

  • The City’s 2013 low-income housing survey revealed an increase in single-room occupancy hotel vacancy rates, with 150 rooms sitting empty in 2014
  • BC Housing SRO upgrades have resulted in approximately 340 units being removed, as renovations take place
  • A steady loss of affordability with rents increasing in SRO hotels over the past decade
  • 208 interim housing sites have been lost compared to 2011, including the closure of Dunsmuir House and the ending of the At Home/Chez Soi project
  • Interim housing at the Biltmore Hotel, originally scheduled to open in the summer of 2013, was delayed until March of 2014
  • Only 105 dedicated winter shelter beds this past winter, compared to 160 in years past

As well, delays in construction for new social housing as part of the 2007 14 sites agreement with BC Housing have put over 600 units behind schedule. There were to be 876 new units open by Q1 2014; to date, just 257 have been completed.

“Ending street homelessness by 2015 is one of Vancouver’s most pressing and urgent challenges, and we will not back down from that goal,” said Mayor Robertson. “We’ve come a long way and made crucial progress since 2008, but I’ve always said that it would not be easy and we can’t do it on our own. My focus as Mayor is to look for solutions, continue to advocate for new partnerships, and follow through on our action plan.”

City investments in housing and homelessness have resulted in annual funding for emergency winter shelter beds since 2009; the purchase of the Ramada Hotel on East Hastings and Kingsway Continental to provide interim housing; and capital investments to upgrade the Biltmore Hotel and Taylor Manor to provide interim and supportive housing.

The introduction of the winter shelters in 2009 has led to almost 500 people moving directly from the street into permanent housing.

The City has also launched a new Rent Bank to prevent unnecessary evictions, an innovative new Online Rental Standards Database, and made significant use of legal injunctions on landlords who refused to maintain their buildings.

The City’s next steps include:

  • Appointing an SRO advocate to work with tenants, the RTA office and City and Vancouver Coastal Health inspectors to improve quality of life for SRO tenants;
  • Working with BC Housing to identify other opportunities for interim housing while the remaining 14 sites continue construction;
  • Increasing homeless advocacy and outreach services by expanding the reach of the City’s Homeless Outreach Team to be Vancouver-wide