Feb 15 2010

Gimme Shelter

“Homes, not Games” has been a consistent rallying cry of anti-Olympics protesters. But visitors to Vancouver may not realize that progress on this file has not been utterly lacking. The social housing we’ve built for our most vulnerable may even be a model for other cities around the world to follow.
Vancouver Olympics social housing woodwards

Here’s an excerpt from my report in Granville on the viability of Woodward’s as a living example of social housing that works:

Of course, since about 2000, Vancouver’s residents and politicians have made substantial efforts to change this neighborhood. Without an umbrella organization to direct taxpayers funds effectively, many projects have seen pitiful returns on investment. But as I noted last week, the Woodward’s building is an example of a project that has provided real benefits to residents—and in the bigger picture, our city.

New Woodward’s resident and DTES-based new media specialist April Smith can’t say enough good things about her new accommodations on an upper floor of the building. She understands the importance of basic shelter to the living conditions of her fellow citizens in the area: “Housing is vital. It can change lives. Certainly changed my life. I went from being homeless to having the best housing I could possibly get.”

She’s not understating the quality of the place. Overlooking the newly renovated neighbourhood and with a view of the water, April has what some people might consider to be a million-dollar view.

The space is smaller than a typical studio apartment, but each room comes with a full kitchen and washroom. Residents have free Internet, phone and cable. There’s laundry on the top floor next to a community lounge and an outdoor space as well.

There’s also the convenience of mixed-use zoning: “To have a real grocery store right underneath you, it’s really good for those residents who have mobility issues. It works out well for me too—I’m trying to be healthier and eat better.”

There’s no question that April and other residents of Woodward’s are now able to live with dignity in a supportive environment. But this improved living condition didn’t come cheap. Not everyone is pleased about the scale of the investment. As one friend who lives in Vancouver South confided in me the other day, “I understand people need housing, but why do we have to spend so much so that they can have views of Canada Place and brand new couches? I mean, do people really have a ‘right’ to live in some of the most desirable real estate in the world?”

Tough questions. But I think our city has provided some balanced answers in the Woodward’s experiment.
Vancouver Olympics social housing woodwards

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