Letter to Vancouver City Council on social housing definition

Re: The DTES Plan is an opportunity to define social housing as the housing homeless people need

To:         City of Vancouver Mayor and Council
From:    Social Housing Alliance

March 11, 2014

The definition of “social housing” proposed in the DTES Local Area Plan is a set-back for the struggle against the housing crisis in Vancouver and, potentially, throughout BC. The Social Housing Alliance is writing to encourage Vancouver City Council to amend this definition to make all social housing accessible to those who need it the most.

We are at a time in BC history when the provincial housing authority makes public statements to the effect of “we don’t build social housing.” The DTES Plan recognizes the need for social housing programs from the provincial and federal government and encourages them to adopt the programs they have abandoned. However, by eroding the definition of social housing to be, effectively, all non-profit housing, the plan undermines its own potential as a tool to push for senior government policy change.

Even more significantly, by eroding the definition of social housing so it may exclude low-income people who need it most, the housing targets of the DTES Plan may in practice include very few low-income people. The definition as it is reduces the meaning and force of the DTES Plan for thousands of low-income people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness because it concretely promises only the most negligible amount of housing where they could afford to live.


We are including our definition of social housing, worked out through the winter of 2013 and voted on by the more than 50 member organizations of our then-coalition. We encourage you to consider this definition in order to prioritize social housing for those who need it the most, and to make a meaningful contribution to ending the housing and homelessness crisis in Vancouver.

Definition of Social Housing

Lately, governments have been creating social housing that low income people can’t afford. For example, the new Remand Centre in Vancouver will have only 24 of 95 units affordable to people on welfare. Social housing at the Olympic Village is too expensive for low income people. The Social Housing Coalition doesn’t want low income people to be excluded from social housing. Therefore, our definition of social housing is as follows:

Social housing is:

  • non-institutional housing that is owned by government, a non-profit group or a co-op;
  • not run for profit;
  • available to people with very low incomes who pay either 30% of their income or the welfare shelter amount for rent;
  • available to ALL who need it. No one will be excluded from a social housing unit because their income is too low. If a social housing resident increases their income, they don’t have to move, but their rent will go up as they pay 30% of their income for rent.