The provincial minister responsible for housing and municipal affairs promised civic politicians gathered in Vancouver Wednesday to work with them to tackle B.C.’s homelessness crisis and make life more affordable for residents.
Selina Robinson told several hundred delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference that the government “will not stand idly by and let you work on these significant challenges alone.”
Speaking from a lectern inside a large hall at the Vancouver Convention Centre, the former Coquitlam councillor said she is working with cabinet ministers Carole James and Shane Simpson to develop a “homelessness action plan.”
Robinson also recommitted to a province-wide homeless count before repeating news the government announced Sept. 11 to spend more than $600 million to build and fund operating costs of 2,000 modular suites and 1,700 units of affordable housing.
“We need to get a firm handle on the scope of the homelessness problem in B.C. – now,” said the minister, who quoted statistics from the Metro Vancouver homeless count released this week that showed a 30 per cent region-wide increase in homelessness since 2014. Vancouver, Surrey and Maple Ridge saw the biggest increases in homelessness.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, who doubles as chairperson of Metro Vancouver, told reporters Tuesday that municipalities were not equipped with staff or the funding to tackle the homelessness crisis alone. A total of 117 homeless people were counted in the Tri-Cites, which is comprised of Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam and Port Moody.
Though she pointed to the urgency of getting people off the streets, Robinson said the government is committed to making life more affordable for all British Columbians, particularly those finding it tough to make ends meet in a province steeped in a housing crisis.
“There are too many people worried about losing the roof over their head, or their children’s heads, or who have already lost it,” she said. “This has to change, and it has to start now.”
The homeless count revealed 22 per cent of respondents who spoke to volunteers said they had a part or full-time job, with half of those counted saying they had lived in a community for 10 years before becoming homeless. More than 1,000 peope cited high rents as a barrier for them to get housing.
Prior to Robinson’s speech, independent city council candidate Jean Swanson, who is campaigning to win the Oct. 14 byelection, held a news conference outside the convention centre to urge Robinson to implement a rent freeze for four years.
Swanson stood before a 12-foot high banner that said “rent freeze” in letters made by several pages of white paper attached to a red tarp and signed by more than 6,000 people calling for a freeze. She also had the support of Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt and Smithers councillor Bill Goodacre.
“We’re here today to make sure the government understands the broad support for a rent freeze,” said Swanson, noting skyrocketing rents are putting people on the street.
Swanson didn’t deliver the petition but Robinson was informed by reporters in a scrum following her speech of the candidate’s demand. Reporters asked the minister whether her government would support a freeze on rents.
“We are looking at a range of different issues and different options moving forward as a government to address housing affordability,” said Robinson, noting the government is currently working to remove the “loophole” that allows landlords to demand fixed-term leases.
Premier John Horgan is scheduled to make a speech Friday to close the conference, which has been attended by all of his cabinet ministers. Historically, premiers have used the conference to announce new initiatives that benefit municipalities.
Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie told the Courier he expects Horgan to make an announcement related to addressing homelessness.
Read more from the Vancouver Courier