Co-ops and the Community Plan

Definition 2

The Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly is nearing completion of its process. By early summer it will have presented its recommendations. Then, it will be up to the City to decide how those recommendations will figure into the final community plan.

Tonight, I attended a community consultation by the Assembly that was specifically geared to co-op housing members, a part of the community that can get ignored in the discussions that centre on the needs of owners and renters in our neighbourhood. There are only two members of the Assembly that live in co-op housing, which apparently represents the proportion of co-op residents in Grandview-Woodland. There are twenty-eight Assembly members that own their residences and another eighteen that rent. I don’t know if there is any representation from social housing included amongst the eighteen renters on the Assembly.

We considered six recommendation areas that concern co-op housing: how the expiration of co-op land leases are handled; the loss of Federal support at the end of co-ops’ operating agreements; advocacy for alternative ownership models in the City; supports for co-ops’ viability over the long term; and the potential for co-op housing to be built into new development.

There was also an initial discussion of a definition of co-operative housing. Though there was a wealth of ideas about what co-op housing means for co-op members and the community, we all agreed that it’s a model distinct from social housing, renting, and owning. The City, as it stands, classes co-ops as a form of social housing, which does a disservice to both models, as they serve different needs and provide different benefits. There is absolutely a need for dedicated low-income housing, but there’s an equal need for mixed-income models that provide security of tenure whether a resident’s income increases or decreases. Mixed-income, affordable housing is especially important in a city that’s becoming increasingly unafforable for middle-income and low-income people alike.

I’m looking forward to seeing the end result of the Assembly’s process. All the members I’ve met have been passionate advocates for our neighbourhood, caring deeply about the diversity that Grandview-Woodland encompasses, and working hard to make sure they represent the need to protect this diversity over the course of the next three decades.

At the same time, I was reminded again tonight that the scope of the Assembly’s mandate is narrow, which makes it important that the community makes itself heard outside that process as well as within it. I hope that CHF BC makes its own submissions to the City with regard to neighbourhood plans across Vancouver, and that the Grandview-Woodland Area Council and the Our Community, Our Plan! group continue to lobby the City on behalf of our neighbourhood.

Income Inequality and Unrest

In the midst of all the news about the riots in England, I couldn’t help but think about the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us. I grew up in a time of relative prosperity (for white, middle-class kids like me, anyway) and the gap between the wealthy and most of us was much, much less. University was a given for many of us and it was affordable. Canada’s Medicare system was so much the status quo that it never occurred to us that it could be challenged or eroded.

Now, I realize my nieces and nephews have grown up into a world where none of this is guaranteed or even expected. In Britain, where class and race inequality are even more entrenched, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a youth today.

There’s been a lot of good analysis of both the English riots and the growth of income inequality. Rather than re-hashing their points, I’d like to share some links with you.

While Alternet can always be relied upon for good analysis, one of the best posts I’ve seen about the riots in London comes from the blog Penny Red: Panic on the Streets of London

Here in Canada, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has come out with a number of reports and multimedia tools on the subjects of income inequality and poverty:

Canada’s Income Gap

The Cost of Poverty in BC

And finally, another article from Alternet, pointing out the awful absurdities that occur in a culture committed to widening the income gap:

$230,000 for a Guard Dog

The Roots of Homelessness

Two weeks ago, I wrote about an investigative series that CTV British Columbia was conducting on the subject of homelessness. Today, I want to follow up on that post. The series, called Off the Streets, covered a number of issues, including drug and alcohol addiction, as well as the special problems faced by homeless youth and single mothers. Mi-Jung Lee and Jon Woodward explored a number of solutions as well, focusing on supportive housing, sobering centres and programs to keep single mothers and youth off the streets.

Throughout the series, we heard that youth who had been through the foster care system, single mothers and First Nations people are particularly at risk of becoming homeless. What wasn’t mentioned is that these groups also face a higher risk of poverty or that as poverty increases in this country, so does homelessness.

It’s not easy to discuss poverty without running up against political and ideological differences. It can be safer to stick to the necessary work of finding strategies to help the people who have already found themselves disenfranchised.

Discussions about poverty in Canada are happening though, in the context of homelessness, but also in relation to poverty’s other consequences, like the toll poverty takes on the health care system and societal productivity levels. Here are a few links to some of these discussions:

Housing and Homelessness – CCPA
Child Poverty Statistics – CCRC
Poverty in Canada – The Economist

I hope that we can, as a culture, really commit to eradicating poverty and reducing income disparity, thus attacking the roots of problems like homelessness, crime and illness.

A First Step

The City of Vancouver has made a commitment to eliminate homelessness by 2015, which Mayor Gregor Robertson has said is targeted toward street homelessness. Already, the number of shelter beds available in the city has made an impact on how many people are sleeping on the street, but longer-term solutions need to be addressed as well.

Local television station CTV is in the midst of an eight-part investigative series on homelessness. Their first segment focused on the non-profit Streetohome, which aims to raise 26 million dollars to fund new supportive housing complexes. Their mandate includes providing “permanent stable housing with appropriate support services.” They’ve also identified a number of at-risk groups and intend to provide services to them that will address the issues that may lead them to become homeless.

While I think that the work that Streetohome does is fantastic, it’s only one aspect of how homelessness must be addressed. Philanthropic solutions cannot be the only action taken to relieve homelessness. Economic disenfranchisement is becoming a greater factor in our culture, especially in a city as expensive as Vancouver. I’ll be watching the CTV series with interest, to see how broadly they explore the issue.

What Lies Ahead

It is a commonplace that those who reach middle age lament the world that has passed and rail against the one that is coming into being. I keep that in mind when I feel curmudgeonly, but I don’t let that stop me from making my mind up about the rights and wrongs of our time.

I come from the generation whose grandparents experienced life in Canada without universal medicare or unemployment insurance. Our parents came of age here in the era of the greatest prosperity and the narrowest class gap of all time. Now, the gap between rich and poor is widening at a frightening rate and medicare is hardly likely to survive into my old age. In the face of these pressures, communities are engaging in discussions about food security and re-discovering techniques for self-sufficiency. Others are discussing the impacts of unchecked development, both within cities and on agricultural land.

I don’t mean to suggest that we return to a mythical golden era; we’ve certainly made strides in human rights and equality since then. I just believe that much is being lost right now that puts the best of our culture at risk.

This post is the introduction to a series of occasional posts about my neighbourhood and region, where I’ll explore my thoughts and fears about the suburbanization of the city, the loss of agricultural land and the growing economic gap that will affect city dwellers and outliers alike.