OTHER VOICES: We are in a housing crisis and need to act now

Lack of options puts all North Vancouver renters at risk of homelessness

I have been an advocate for housing for over 25 years.

It began in the 1990s when I was involved in developing a 42-unit affordable housing project in partnership with BC Housing, the City of North Vancouver, and the not-for-profit I was working with at the time. 

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The building looks as good today as it did when it was first constructed, and the majority of the people who moved in still live there. The tenants were strangers when they moved in, and today they are neighbours and friends. After interviewing over 200 people for 42 units and hearing their stories, I am convinced that building saved lives. At the very least, it provided quality of life.

Isn't that what every housing development should do?

Back then, it was one of only three buildings on that street, the only one providing affordable housing for those on low incomes or fixed pensions. Today that street is an urban, densely populated environment scattered with high and low rises. It's vibrant and diverse, and even as populated as it is, people have become familiar with their neighbours across the way and down the road. It's a desirable and sought-after neighbourhood.  

Watching that "community" evolve to where it is now, I give kudos to the city's foresight back then in recognizing the need to plan for all types of housing for all kinds of folks. Market rentals, affordable housing, and home ownership … all on one street. They developed a community that was everything to everyone.

Two decades later, I am astounded at the need for housing in our community.

Twenty years ago, we needed affordable housing. Today we need housing; period. We are in the midst of a housing crisis.

Over the past 10 years, we've seen an increasing number of young people, seniors, and families in our community face housing instability and, sadly, homelessness. We see the existing housing inventory aging to where, in some cases, it's unsafe. Renters with a decent income no longer have a choice where they live but rather take what is available because the alternative is scary. If you're a renter … you are at housing risk.

As a community, what do we do?

We need our municipalities to open their minds to smart development. For projects that don't just build buildings but rather build communities. Housing for young people, solos, and seniors. Housing for small and large families, housing for low incomes, and housing for high-income earners. Housing for the able and the disabled. Rentals and home ownership. Smaller, smarter, energy-efficient housing. That's what we need. And we need it now!

And that is likely why the District of North Vancouver moved Anthem's Seymour Estates proposal forward to a public hearing. They saw a developer who was willing to be everything to everyone. Who would build smaller, smarter, environmentally sustainable housing for low incomes and high, for first-time homeowners and downsizers. Housing for singles and families, for local employees and retirees.

They are building a community. 

Without a clear plan for development in our municipalities, we will only perpetuate the housing crisis. We need to build for the demand now and to begin replacing the housing inventory that has expired. Let's encourage our municipalities to be bold and build smart, strategic, and environmentally friendly housing. Let's hold our developers accountable for bringing benefits and community into their developments. Let's work together to create housing for everyone everywhere.

Joy Hayden is a fundraiser and community developer for a North Vancouver not-for-profit service agency and has been personally and professionally advocating for affordable housing on the North Shore for decades.

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