One year after taking office, Vancouver's mayor is struggling to fix a homeless housing emergency
VANCOUVER - On Nov. 5, 2018, Kennedy Stewart officially became mayor of Vancouver. He’s the first independent mayor the city has had in decades, and he campaigned on promises to tackle the city’s affordable housing crisis and get more transit built.
One year later, Stewart says city council is making headway on getting new rental projects approved for people who make between $30,000 and $80,000.
But despite the construction of hundreds of temporary modular housing units for people who are homeless, the number of city residents without a fixed address continued to rise in 2019. Stewart is dealing with an ongoing emergency in Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside, where a homeless tent city has been located for over a year.
In an interview on Friday with CTV Morning Live, Stewart said he’d still like the Vancouver Park Board to give the city jurisdictional control of the park, a step that would allow the city to possibly move to evict the people tenting there.
“My offer was to take temporary control of the park so we could move it along and return it to normal operations,” Stewart said.
The park board has so far refused to either give up control of the park or go to court to get an injunction to clear the park, because some park board commissioners fear people could be in danger if they’re forced to camp somewhere more isolated.
Stewart said he’s now “working around” that decision, and is focused on trying to get more housing for people who are homeless.
“I was over in Victoria on Monday and Tuesday talking with (provincial) ministers, I’ve just been texting with a new federal minister this morning,” Stewart said.
More modular housing units will be opening this February, Stewart said, and the city just announced 329 shelter beds – the highest number ever – will open as winter approaches. That’s in addition to the 900 permanent shelter beds available in the city.
Stewart said he goes to Oppenheimer Park frequently, and characterized the people who live there as being part of “three groups: There are a number of criminals, who probably need to be arrested. There are some activists who are making a point. But then there are people who are very mentally ill who need really high levels of service.”
Renters in Vancouver have been increasingly squeezed by rising rents and an increased threat of evictions. Stewart said a new renters’ resource hub will help renters get information about their legal rights if they are facing eviction due to renovations or building demolitions.
Several new rental projects proposed under the city’s new moderate income pilot project are also coming before council next week, Stewart said. Those new rental units are targeted towards people who make between $30,000 and $80,000 a year.
“(They’ll) be hopefully approved by December and we can start building this stuff for the workforce, because that’s who’s hit the hardest in this city: the workers who are being driven out because the rents are too high,” Stewart said.
Stewart said he is also continuing to lobby the federal government on the Broadway subway extension. Ideally, the new line would go all the way to the University of British Columbia, but it’s currently only funded to go as far as Arbutus Street.
With the federal Liberals re-elected, albeit with a minority government, Stewart said he’ll be flying to Ottawa later this month to continue lobbying for Vancouver’s transit and housing asks.
“It’s fighting for the city,” Stewart said. “You know who’s awesome in Ottawa? The mayor of Toronto, the mayor of Montreal, the mayor of Edmonton, the mayor of Calgary – they’re all there fighting. If I’m not there, we’ll lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars.”