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Vancouver hurls millions of city money into housing and shelter as deadline approaches

September 26th, 2014 · 45 Comments

Since the first day that Vision Vancouver came into power, Mayor Gregor Robertson has turned up the flame on efforts to create new shelter spaces, interim housing, and permanent housing in the city.

But this week, as the election and a Dec. 31 deadline for “solving street homelessness” approaches, the city has started doing something I’ve never seen before: pay entirely for the cost of new interim housing without getting any provincial input or agreement on sharing the costs.

As my story here details, the city has unilaterally decided to lease the Quality Inn on Howe Street and turn it into interim housing for the homeless while that building is awaiting redevelopment. That is not cheap. $1.5 million for the 23 months of the lease, likely at least $2 million a year in staffing costs, and I don’t know how much for improvements, equipment, supplies, and so on.

It’s also single-handedly covering the costs of a new shelter on 900 Pacific, again, without any prior agreement with BC Housing on whether those costs will be shared.

(I said in my story that this was the first time the city had done this. Councillor Kerry Jang contacted me this morning, after he missed a call from me yesterday on this, to say the city did fund one HEAT shelter at the beginning of Vision’s first term, as a way of bringing other partners on board.)

Robertson said this is just an advance opening of a winter shelter, so the costs will be covered by the province, at least at some point. But seems to me the province has been sticky in recent years about which locations it’s willing to fund as shelters.

This is all on top of the announcement that Vision will put $400,000 of city money into school food programs. Again, an unprecedented move for a city to start taking on this kind of social-service spending.

While it would take a pretty hard-hearted person to gripe about feeding hungry children or housing the homeless, some people inside and outside the city have to be wondering what the limits are going to be when it comes to using the city budget to patch the provincial social-safety net.

Categories: 2014 Vancouver Civic Election