ULI’s Advisory Services was invited by ULI British Columbia and Community Impact Real Estate (CIRES), along with supporter Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), to Vancouver, BC to convene a Virtual Advisory Services Panel (vASP) to address the intersection of work and housing in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. The panel was specifically tasked with making recommendations on safe, sustainable housing solutions for workers who are engaged in full-time employment or training and who are housing insecure.
This three day vASP was held over June 28th through to June 30th, 2021.
Housing and employment are inextricably linked, and individuals vulnerable to homelessness rely jointly on workforce and housing support systems. However, providers in the two systems frequently operate independently of each other. Individuals receiving housing services may have to search for employment assistance on their own, and employers may have expectations that do not consider the urgent situations of Individuals experiencing homelessness. Overcoming the challenges of this divide will require solutions that address organizational and programmatic partnerships as well as best practices and successful models that will help lead the city and the community to actionable steps.
What does reorienting an approach to housing that begins with those maintaining employment look like? A survey of many social enterprises and employment training programs has shown that there are many workers who are engaged fulltime in employment or training, yet still live in shelters or sleep rough. Despite demonstrating a commitment to attach permanently to the labour market, housing costs and policy barriers make it difficult to find safe, sustainable housing. This portion of many urban populations struggles to exist at the intersection of work and housing. What could safe, accessible and, affordable housing look like for this population?
Panelists were specifically asked to provide strategic recommendations on:
- The ideal structure of the partnership to create housing options for individuals who are employed and experiencing homelessness.
- What tenancy options could look like for worker-focused housing.
- The benefits of mixed-use buildings in the creation of worker-focused housing.
- Creative strategies at the intersection of housing and employment for the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
Too many workers are struggling to maintain gainful employment and training while under-housed or homeless. Designing housing options that considers their unique situation is another way to help build stronger communities for all residents so everyone can live a healthy a rewarding life.
Through listening during the panel process, the panel discerned that cultivating innovation in housing will:
▪ Better align the housing and employment ladders, and stabilize those in transition along the path
▪ Deliver more quality, safe housing
▪ Physical property conditions, community behaviours, legal/financial terms of tenure
▪ Give more people more hope, more purpose, and reasons to get up and be active in their lives and communities, each day
Key recommendations from the panel include
The panelists’ key recommendations include the following:
- Explore opportunities and challenges related to limited land availability by creating incentives for affordability and development, re-zoning strategies, and cultivating Environmental, Social, and Government focused REITS that would buy and manage with long-term affordability in mind, among others.
- Reduce development timelines through enhancing stakeholder engagement, increasing regulatory clarity, and identifying and enhancing innovative community benefits.
- Produce and preserve affordable and workforce housing.
- Expand and deepen community partnerships to better coordinate a system of service delivery.
- Establish a robust system of housing navigation and tools to support housing accessibility.
- Establish housing and worker-focused peer-to-peer networks, utilizing the success of similar recovery-focused models in the area.
- Establish a new housing authority that would focus on the DTES and include tri-Governmental cooperation, with affordable housing creation as a central goal. Specific structural examples from Vancouver, BC and Toronto, ON were provided as examples.