Hot-topic potato, pass the problem on
Freya Wasteneys // Contributor
Vancouver is notorious for its three favourite conversation topics: weather, food and real estate. In fact, 74 per cent of people polled in a survey conducted by the City of Vancouver in April admit they regularly rant about the high cost of real estate, and 49 per cent voted it the “hottest topic.” While talking about real estate may be excellent cocktail party banter for some, the ever-increasing gap between income and housing prices is a real and serious issue for many who (try to) live in the Lower Mainland.
In an effort to combat this issue, the City of Vancouver recently donated $25 million of their land-trust to construct 358 affordable housing units. In many ways, this is a positive step forward, with the stipulation that tenants will pay no more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. However, the Vancouver Sun reports that tenants are only eligible if they make between $49,999 and $69,500 a year, which dramatically overlooks the people who need affordable housing the most.
On the one hand, it is good to see the City of Vancouver is trying to find solutions. At a roundtable event hosted in June, coined “The Big Conversation”, the city appeared to be reaching out to the people. The point of the event was to develop strategies by allowing residents to provide feedback. Mayor Gregor Robertson said that the key was to develop “more.” He emphasized the city needed “a mix of housing,” with as much “affordable housing” as they could provide.
But even at the time, Leéne Son, the coordinator for the Carnegie Community Action Project, voiced concern that Vancouver’s homeless population was left out of the conversation entirely, stating that “people who are most marginalized in the community are not heard.”
While these housing units are better than nothing, they are also a slap in the face to many. Despite being ranked the third most unaffordable city in the world by 2017 Demographia Housing Affordability Survey, BC still only has a minimum wage of $11.35 (after a 40 cent increase in September). If workers were able to maintain full-time work, this would average out to a yearly income of $23,608. This is less than half of the qualifying income, and this paired with precarious employment means that many people would not qualify for Vancouver’s new affordable housing.
When even people who fit the traditional definition of “success” find it hard to stay afloat, it is hard to imagine how people with unstable work and poor pay manage to maintain the basic necessities. Unfortunately, the answers are coming from the top down, rather than the bottom up, and there is a lack of dialogue despite the roundtable event in June.
The City of Vancouver seems to be playing favourites with an exclusive demographic, while maintaining the image of being philanthropic. As usual, the solutions provided are ones that sound good in practice, but fall at in action. Rather than addressing deeper systemic issues, the intent seems to be to provide positive publicity and simplified quick fixes.