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Suzanne Anton: Vancouver must work with provincial, federal governments to fix complex housing problems

Mayor-elect Ken Sim and his team are in a fortunate position. Controlling the votes, as they do, means that they can set their priorities and follow through with them.

Mayor-elect Ken Sim and his team are in a fortunate position. Controlling the votes, as they do, means that they can set their priorities and follow through with them.

Their first priority must be housing, starting with the unhappy situation of those living in tents on Hastings St. The area is cold, wet, and dangerous, and those living there, many with untreated addictions, need to be helped into indoor living.

The problems are complex and will require an all-hands-on-deck approach from council and staff, and close working relationships with the province and the federal government. The government relationships were weak under recent administrations, and Mayor Sim will be starting afresh.

Mayor Sam Sullivan appointed Ken Dobell to the city manager’s office to be his ambassador to other governments. The positive work at that time resulted in 14 city owned sites made available for public housing and the province’s purchase of over 25 downtown rooming houses. It was the last time there was a game-changing move on housing, and it is time for a new one.

There are other housing issues in the city, but I don’t believe we should be spending city resources on them without solving the homeless issue. 

The second priority is to return to the focus on a liveable city. 

People love to live in compact well-designed cities, with good transportation, thriving cultural organizations, public safety, and excellent parks and recreation facilities.

Here are some suggestions.

Ensure new developments contribute sufficiently to the schools, libraries, cultural facilities and parks that the residents need. Does the Broadway plan support libraries? Where will the children in the new Sen̓áḵw development play soccer?

Build the streetcar. Vancouver was designed around a streetcar over 100 years ago. Rights of way (Arbutus Corridor, Southeast False Creek) are ready to be used. People love taking the streetcar. Some still remember fondly the old line from Vancouver to New Westminster, decommissioned many years ago.

Be creative with density. Look at some of the great neighbourhoods of the world and apply their models to Vancouver. Not all density comes in high rise form. 

Be liberal with commercial zoning. Cambie and 33rd has thousands of new residents in the area and not a store in sight.

Support arts facilities so as to have a truly great city. Help the Art Gallery with its new building. Start the planning for a seismic upgrade on the Orpheum, which will crumble in an earthquake. Help smaller arts organizations with their myriad of needs.

Keep the parks in good repair. 

Closing the Kits pool for months was extremely disappointing to swimmers . Letting the Aquatic Centre fall into such disrepair that the wall fell off demonstrates a complete failure in setting priorities.

Free swimming lessons may be important, but it’s more important that there be pools in which to hold those lessons. Successive Park Boards have promised new pools, and the new Aquatic centre is to be built in the near future, but that leaves the rest of the city with aging and insufficient pools.

Park Board used to build one community centre each capital plan. When I left the Park Board in 2005, the Marpole Centre was next in line. It has never been built. We still do not have a running track suitable for competition. 

People want to have pride in their city. Fix the entrances to the city. The south end of Granville is the first impression of the city for anyone coming by air. It looks terrible and it would not take much work to make it a stunning welcome to our city. 

Mow the boulevards.

Stay away from initiatives which are virtue signaling only. Deploy your resources on matters which add genuine value. 

Keep the city compact and beautiful. Your government will succeed and we will be a green and successful city indeed. 

Suzanne Anton KC is a former Vancouver City Councillor and Park Board Commissioner

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