Re:Address housing affordability conference costing $500,000

Vancouver mayor’s 2008 promise to end homelessness by 2015 unfulfilled

Vancouver city hall | Photo: Josef Hanus, Shutterstock

Vancouver city hall is spending almost half a million dollars to hold a convention about the city’s hottest topic: housing affordability.

The October 24-29 Re:Address Discussions on Global Housing Solutions events include a wine and cheese reception at the Museum of Anthropology, a daylong summit at the Vancouver Convention Centre and nine other events at six venues that feature academics, bureaucrats and non-governmental organization representatives.

NPA Coun. George Affleck said he has been proposing a major international conference for five years but fears that this one will be a lost opportunity.

“How quickly was this thrown together? How effective is it going to be or is this just a photo op for the mayor?” Affleck asked. “He’s trying to find a way to look like he’s actually trying to solve it.”

Mayor Gregor Robertson is prominently featured on the event’s website. Robertson led his Vision Vancouver party to power in 2008 with a platform that included a promise to “end street homelessness by 2015.” The 2016 annual homeless count found there were 1,847 people living on Vancouver streets or in shelters, a 17% increase from 2008’s 1,576.

City hall spokesman Jag Sandhu said the Re:Address events are costing $236,100, and the city hopes to recover $262,000 through unspecified partner contributions and ticket sales. The Re:Address website, which was registered on August 24, does not explicitly identify corporate or government sponsors beyond the city itself. Sandhu said the city has also hired Cause+Effect Design to “reset” the city’s housing and homelessness strategy, “in order to take urgent action on the housing affordability crisis.” 

“In this role they will be supporting the production and promotion of Re:Address as part of the larger engagement activities for this initiative,” Sandhu said.

Cause+Effect clients include Tides Canada, the environmental charity for which Robertson was a director before he entered politics.

Re:Address includes speakers from Australia, Austria, New Zealand and Scotland. New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development commissioner Vicki Been is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech; Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. CEO Evan Siddall is one of the moderators. The first event of the week, on the topic of the right to adequate housing, is scheduled for October 24 at the Creekside Community Centre in Olympic Village. After the 2010 Winter Olympics, the $1.1 billion luxury condo project was put into receivership and Vision Vancouver cut the number of subsidized housing units in half, from 252 to 126.

Affleck said lack of affordable housing is not unique to Vancouver, nor can the city solve the problem on its own. Such a conference, he said, should have included the participation of national political leaders.