Turning Vancouver's Housing Nightmare Around

Civil CityBy Pivot Legal Society Lawyer David Eby

I have a dream for Vancouver.

I carry it up my sleeve, in a secret compartment, ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice on anyone who shows even the slightest interest.

Like you.

My dream for Vancouver is about housing!

I know that sounds boring. The exclamation mark can’t save it. But give my dream a chance. The unleashing hasn’t even started yet.

In my dream for Vancouver, the poor and disabled people do not live in the street, or in buildings that have flashing neon SOCIAL HOUSING signs out front. They live in the same buildings as the rich people, in apartments that are not identified as anything other than Apartment 12, 55, or 34. If these people need health or social services to be able to contribute to their building’s community, they get those services. They’re great neighbours.

Both the rich people and the poor people live in the same buildings as the middle-income people. The middle-income people who fight our fires, police our streets, teach our children, carry our mail and do the sometimes dirty, sometimes dangerous, jobs that glue our city's puzzle pieces together. They live in those buildings too.

In my dream all of the children of all of these neighbours play together at the same playgrounds in the same parks, just out front of those remarkable buildings, right beside the community centres and pools. That's because my dream makes an effort to increase green space and community amenities, not just density. (In my dream, you can afford rent and children.)

But my dream is not all cottony soft with fuzzy edges and soft focus. In my dream, these neighbours will not always hold hands and sing songs in perfect harmony, because they will come from very different backgrounds. They will disagree on lots of things. Despite this, the healthy friction that emerges will quickly develop and encourage real community, not divide it and put it in different parts of town.

My dream would have difficulty running for office. My dream nurtures yet another socialist threat to the free market that could reduce profits for developers and slow development. My dream is the worst kind of sell out for suggesting we work constructively with developers to create projects that work for everyone in the community and also make a profit. My dream isn't soundbyte-able, although it is fiscally responsible.

My dream will work not through elected representatives addicted to opinion polls, but will work by becoming your dream.

My dream doesn't care why you like it. Maybe you'll make it your dream because you're tired of dealing with the heart-wrenching poverty you encounter every day in Vancouver's streets; or maybe because you're choked about not being able to afford a place of your own on two respectable middle-income salaries; or maybe you just don't think that a 100-unit building full of people with mental health issues, addictions, and no supports is the best thing that could happen to your neighbourhood, let alone to the residents or staff of that building.

It's fine to make my dream your dream for the most selfish reasons, just so long as you don't tell anyone. If people figure out why you actually like this dream, they may think you're a crass realist who just wants to solve some problems. They'd quickly tell you that realists don't have dreams, they just have pragmatic, real-world solutions.

But then I guess this is a dream that wouldn't be a bad solution. And maybe that's the best kind of dream to unleash...