Explainer: The City of Vancouver’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan

The report focuses on economic recovery, housing and homelessness, and the climate emergency response

Vancouver City Hall. (wikimedia.commons)

The Vancouver City Council COVID-19 Recovery Committee’s final report was unanimously approved earlier this month.

The CCRC formed in May to share information about the City’s COVID-19 pandemic response and business and community recovery planning.

The report summarizes recommendations from several meetings with experts and stakeholders who shared their advice for how the City can ensure a successful recovery from the pandemic. The recommendations include actions that the City can take and suggestions to lobby the government. The committee deemed 41 of the 148 recommendations to be of highest priority.

The recommendations focus on five priority themes: Economic recovery, new fiscal tools for the City, housing and homelessness, municipal government role and response, and COVID recovery and the climate emergency response.

Economic Recovery

The committee’s report determined that the City needs new and increased funding sources. It also suggests that they “take advantage of senior government COVID-19 stimulus funding” while keeping communication open with more senior government. The idea is to balance the City’s budgets.

The report summarized the key role small businesses play in the local economy of Vancouver. In May, the City increased patio permitting and repurposed public spaces as part of the Room to Move Initiative. They permitted temporary liquor licenses for smaller cafes and restaurants and will continue to review and create actions to support small businesses.

Fiscal Tools for the City

The City plans to prioritize investment in industries and businesses “producing low- and zero-carbon goods and services to grow the clean economy.” This includes investments in clean transportation, restoration and managing natural resources and green infrastructure, and prioritizing measures to electrify buildings to achieve zero carbon emissions.

Each step will also help the city fulfill its Vancouver’s Greenest City and Climate Emergency Action Plan. The plan was approved in 2011 with the goal of making Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020.

Housing and Homelessness

The CCRC supported five key points with a focus on affordable housing and homelessness, including making the federal 10-year National Housing Strategy funding available now. The program aims to build more affordable housing and address the over-inflated cost of land that is driving up housing prices among other actions. The City’s goal was to build 72,000 housing units within 10 years, the final year being 2021.

The City will continue to provide low-cost funding through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for non-market housing. This type of housing is protected from market prices, creating affordable options for renters or owners. This includes housing co-ops and non-profit housing corporations.

The top priority list also enacts a federal “housing first” policy similar to Finland’s. The policy would aim to eliminate homelessness and include “wrap-around social services.” In Finland, the policy was introduced in 2007 as a “solution for the most vulnerable homeless people” by basing permanent housing on a normal lease. The policy also included an increased supply of affordable rental housing.

Municipal Government Role and Response

The City plans to improve the implementation of a safe supply of drugs. In July of 2019, Vancouver City Council approved a Safe Supply Statement, created alongside the Vancouver Community Action Team, to advocate for access for a regulated drug supply. The overdose crisis was declared a B.C. public health emergency in April of 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for safe supply, as B.C. saw the highest overdose deaths this year since 2016.

The City is following the recommendation to focus housing policies on “solutions for those most at risk and negatively affected by COVID: The homeless, as well as low and moderate-income households.” This includes working with non-profit organizations to offer safe and secure affordable housing and continuing to build more non-market, co-op, and supportive housing as the City makes land available.

COVID Recovery Planning and the Climate Emergency

Related to Vancouver’s Greenest City plan, the City will increase local food production, work with Metro Vancouver to manage waste, and create more opportunities to generate clean energy.

As well, the City will retrofit 500,000 buildings with at least half being zero-emission while increasing job opportunities for less-skilled workers and youth. It will also “boost funding” to increase the construction of social housing and housing for Indigenous people.

For 2020, their focus is on making short-term actions and scenario planning so that they can develop a long-term strategy at the end of the year.

The committee is scheduled to reassess the City’s progress in September and again in December this year.

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