The province, with the help of wealthy business leaders in Vancouver, will announce on Tuesday more than $200-million for social housing that will serve almost 1,000 of the city's poorest residents.
The announcement is the culmination of months of negotiations between Housing Minister Rich Coleman, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and the business-led Streetohome Foundation to find money for eight social-housing projects that had stalled as the economy slowed.
"It's the single biggest commitment in Canada in housing by any regional government and it's a testament to how the city and the provincial government are working through some difficult issues," said a source knowledgeable about the deal. Premier Gordon Campbell, Mr. Coleman, Mr. Robertson and foundation representatives were set to announce the details on Tuesday morning, although condo marketer Bob Rennie hinted broadly at the deal in a speech to the development industry last week.
The massive funding announcement is a victory for the city in its efforts to tackle homelessness, a grand finale for what has been Mr. Coleman's ambitious housing agenda for the past three years, and a breakthrough in Streetohome's bid to find a major project to support.
The foundation was created more than two years ago to channel private money into homelessness initiatives. But the group, whose board includes mining magnate Frank Giustra, Mr. Rennie, Strand Properties CEO John Mackay, Vancity CEO Tamara Vrooman and others, has struggled to find a major housing project that wasn't a duplication of what the government was already doing. (It has contributed money to smaller projects.)
Sources say that the foundation's board was convinced that seed money from its donors would help Mr. Coleman persuade his cabinet colleagues to come in with the remainder of the dollars needed for the eight sites.
The foundation's contribution will be kicked off with a donation of $5-million from a prominent local businessman. A subsequent Streetohome fundraising campaign is expected to bring in more than $20-million.
The city has already donated the land for the sites, and has negotiated with Mr. Coleman to provide additional capital for future social-housing projects in exchange for this deal.
The money will enable construction to start almost immediately on the eight projects, with completions expected between 2011 and 2013.
The province and city announced an agreement in November, 2007, under then mayor Sam Sullivan, to fast-track the 14 housing projects by streamlining the usual city processes. Mr. Sullivan was also instrumental in helping create the Streetohome Foundation.
Six projects got started in the 12 months preceding the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Many housing advocates feared the other eight projects would quietly wither away once the glare of international attention on Vancouver's homelessness problems disappeared.
Homelessness has been one of Mr. Robertson's priorities since he and his Vision Vancouver team were elected in November, 2008. The city pushed to open eight additional shelters in the past year and a half, which cut the numbers of people living on the street by half.
A homeless count done in March showed 400 people sleeping on the streets and 1,400 in shelters. A count done two years previous showed 800 people sleeping outside and 900 in shelters.
The push at Vancouver city hall is to move people from shelters into the new social-housing projects or, in the interim, some kind of temporary housing that's better than a shelter.
Special to The Globe and Mail