Vancouver is in a state of shock over its housing crisis and drug-overdose epidemic, candidates vying to be mayor of the city say.
And five of them proposed new solutions to the city’s biggest problems during a debate Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Vancouver. They suggested initiatives from a complete review of all the services in the Downtown Eastside – ground zero of the city’s drug problem – to an emergency task force on the opioid crisis to new building programs. Voters go to the polls on Oct. 20.
“I think our community is in shock. We had a mass murder [with opioids] and we don’t talk about this. That’s why the city has to reground itself and … focus exclusively on the key issues: housing and the opioid crisis,” said Kennedy Stewart, an independent who is on a slate, with candidates from four left and left-centre parties, endorsed by local unions.
Others also talked about Vancouver as being in a crisis, with young people leaving in droves, seniors facing homelessness and a sense that the city is failing.
Mr. Kennedy said he would create an emergency task force to tackle the overdose problem, as well as negotiate to get a new agreement between the city, province and federal government to deal with the serious issues in the Downtown Eastside.
Ken Sim, the mayoral candidate for the Non-Partisan Association, promised that he would set up a satellite office in the Downtown Eastside where he would visit regularly and that he would order a review of the area’s services.
He said there are 200 community groups and a million dollars a day being spent on one area with few apparent results.
Mr. Stewart, independent candidate Shauna Sylvester, and Yes Vancouver candidate Hector Bremner all emphasized the need for more housing.
Mr. Bremner said he would push in particular for “no-barrier housing” for people who are homeless, a kind of housing that doesn’t bar people just because they have pets, shopping carts or drugs.
Ms. Sylvester said that her priority would be 2,800 new units of housing targeted toward women, families and young people leaving the foster-care system.
And Mr. Stewart said his plan to create 25,000 new subsidized apartments in the next 10 years would help.
Wai Young, a former Conservative MP who is running with a new party called Coalition Vancouver, focused less on housing. Instead, Ms. Young promised to bring back the job of drug-policy co-ordinator, established in the early 2000s by then-mayor Philip Owen, and eliminated by Vision Vancouver.
She also promised a home-ownership plan that would allow millennials to buy units for as little as $300,000. (It’s currently almost impossible to find anything for less than $400,000 for sale.)
Mr. Sim has touted the idea of allowing everyone to have two basement suites, instead of the currently permitted one – a move he says could create 40,000 homes almost instantly.
“It’s not sexy, it’s about providing supply right away,” he said.
That’s a move that others have panned, saying that renters should not be relegated to basement suites.
Mr. Bremner instead reiterated his conviction that the solution to the city’s problems is to update its almost 100-year-old plan that reserves three-quarters of the city for expensive detached homes and open that up to other kinds of housing, from townhouses to duplexes to purpose-built rentals.
He accused other candidates of simply re-announcing old ideas or doing nothing at all.
“This is a critical election, we need housing of all types. If you think setting bold goals is too much, you shouldn’t be running,” he said.