Former housing director says projects not just for homeless

Only 37 per cent of project tenants were previously homeless

The city's former housing director has written a letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson to "correct a major misunderstanding" in a report that went to council Thursday, which revealed only 37 per cent of tenants living in four social housing buildings were previously homeless.

Cameron Gray said the city's report has taken a narrow focus on what was a much broader agreement between the city and provincial government related to the construction of 14 social housing buildings on city property.

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Gray authored the memorandum of understanding between the city and the province in 2007 and pointed out the 14 buildings were built to accommodate people from the street, single-room occupancy hotels, hospitals and those at risk of homelessness.

"And any renter paying more than 50 per cent of their gross income on rent is considered to be at risk of homelessness which is why core-need singles are eligible tenants of the 14 projects and occupancy is not limited to those with no or very low incomes, such as the homeless," wrote Gray, whose letter was circulated Tuesday by B.C. Housing, the housing arm of the provincial government.

Four of the 14 buildings have opened and the city's report said only 144 of 388 tenants were homeless before being offered a place to live at 1005 Station St., 337 West Pender St., 525 Abbott St. and 1338 Seymour St.

The majority of tenants-167-were living in single-room occupancy hotels prior to their moves. Another 47 were in hospital, jail or a treatment facility and 29 came from a long-term care facility or other housing.

Robertson told the Courier last Friday that he was "surprised" and "concerned" by the low number of homeless living in the four buildings. The mayor said he planned speak to Housing Minister Rich Coleman and "ensure the taxpayer investment in those sites is respected by homeless people getting housed."

The city report acknowledged the memorandum of understanding between the city and the province but said the focus of the city's efforts "has been to ensure as many of Vancouver's homeless get housed in the 14 sites and have access to supports," wrote Brenda Prosken, the city's deputy general manager of community services.

But Gray said the city's report should applaud the success of the partnership in achieving the memorandum of understanding's aspirations instead of lamenting that only 37 per cent of tenants in the four buildings were previously homeless.

"It is understandable that the current council with its focus on ending street homelessness might prefer that the 14 projects accommodate more actual homeless than they probably will," he said. "However, that does not mean that B.C. Housing broke any promises, reneged on any commitments made in the [memorandum of understanding], need explain or apologize."

Added Gray: "The partnership with B.C. Housing is achieving exactly what was intended. This council may seek to reopen the [memorandum of understanding] to narrow its focus from housing those at risk of homelessness and those living in [single-room occupancy hotels], as well as those who are homeless, to only housing the homeless, which is its right, but it should be done explicitly, with B.C. Housing's agreement, and council needs to realize it is late in the process and there could be design, program and financial consequences."

Twitter: @Howellings

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