Supporters of social housing have a month to find the money to include low-cost homes in a proposed new library in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
The Strathcona Library, on Hastings Street, is expected to only house books unless the city can find funding for a dedicated second storey for social housing, and a contractor to complete within the timeframe.
The Carnegie Community Action Project, an advocacy group at the forefront of support for the housing project, sent a letter to the mayor and council asking them to amend the city staff’s recommendation to build a stand-alone library.
The group has also put together a 1,500-signature petition supporting the social housing with the library.
Councillor Kerry Jang said the council would like to include homes, but external funding is needed due to budget restrictions. The council is currently seeking donors.
“If we could do this, we’d do it,” Jang said. “We have to find a funder so we went to BC Housing and they have nothing in their current budget.”
Literacy is a priority
In mid-October, the council voted on a six-week window to find funding, as it wanted to keep the long-awaited library on schedule.
“The council didn’t want the housing to slow down the timeline of the library because our No. 1 consideration is literacy,” Jang said. “[Strathcona residents] have been trying to get a library for 20 years.”
The councillor said the city expects to make a final decision on the housing portion of the project around the end of November.
Residents have staged several protests in the past few weeks demanding more social housing.
Dozens of protestors stormed a mayoral meeting on Oct. 22 to further highlight their cause.
“Well, we thought, what a great example for the city to live up to one of its promises to build some social housing,” said Robert Bonner, a social housing advocate.
“You already own the land, you are already putting up a building, why can’t you build on top of it to put social housing above it?”
Tami Starlight, a member of the Downtown Eastside Neighborhood Council, said their frustration comes from the exclusion of the poor.
“The neighbourhood council has come to recognize that the property-owning, poor-hating, NIMBY-type Strathcona residents don’t want any more social housing,” Starlight said.
Decline in social housing
A Sept. 2010 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows there was an overall net increase of 280 new social housing units across B.C. over the last five years.
Overall, the report shows a decline of 2,820 independent social housing units, which potentially shows the city and provincial governments are focusing on rental assistance and shelters instead of long-term, affordable housing.
BC Housing has approximately 10,000 applicants on its waitlist for social housing.
“You know, these shelters are shelters — they are not home,” said Bonner. “They are somewhere where you can go to get out of the rain and then they boot you at 6 o’ clock in the morning
“What good are you doing anybody, other than keeping them dry?”
Nathan Crompton, a member of grassroots organization VanAct!, questioned the city’s commitment to support social housing.
“There are a huge number of properties in the eastside of Vancouver that are sitting empty and are up for grabs,” he said. “If the city was serious, they would be accumulating properties.”
He also said another catalyst behind the outrage is the city’s decision to slash the number of social housing units in the Olympic Village.
“For us, [the Olympic Village] has been a real catalyst — a real, clear instance of a broken promise from a supposedly progressive government,” he said.