The Dollar-Cost of Housing the Homeless

Social Housing should be part of the regional system, incorporated into neighbourhood planning from the outset. Lewis N. Villegas, The Gastown Principles, March 2011.

Alexander Street in Gastown, pictured above, presents a microcosm of a workable housing strategy. In this photo we see co-op housing, social housing, affordable housing, and hi-end condominiums all on the same city block. There is a higher level of social mix taking place on the street than inside any given building.

Before we can contemplate redevelopment in the Historic Quartiers, guarantees must be put in place to safe-guard against gentrification. We define  gentrification as a low income population being displaced by a new, more mobile, higher income group. The safeguards the Charrette proposes are:

  1. Zero-tolerance for homelessness: building sufficient housing to house the homeless.
  2. Implement transportation to return traffic volumes to neighbourhood levels of service, redesigning local streets to support social functioning.
  3. Build Co-op Market Buildings to provide space for businesses serving the low income sector.
  4. Build urban rooms, and public open spaces on freed-up rights-off-way to support social mixing. Pair urban rooms with Co-op Market Buildings to provide space for outdoor fairs, markets & celebrations.
  5. Use the urban house building type for social housing, so that social housing looks like every other house on the block. Don’t put social housing in towers.

The Face of Homelessness

Sustainable urbanism must incorporate social housing. Vancouver’s homeless are:

  • 80% one or more of: addiction, mental health, HIV, other chronic
  • 60% trauma victims
  • 50% released from government care (foster care, group home, corrections) [Kraus, 2010]
  • 33% aboriginal
  • 10% Out-of-province

From: Housing and Homeless Strategy, City of Vancouver, 1 February 2011

In spring 2011, a CBC radio interview suggested that the cost of homelessness per person can be measured as:

  • $80,000 Federal Incarceration
  • $70,000 Provincial Incarceration
  • $55,000 Street Homeless (cost on the system–”Housing and Homeless Strategy,” City of Vancouver, 2011)
  • $45,000 Housed with supports

Taking the numbers as approximate, it will cost our society a great deal to provide social housing with supports. However, it costs us even more not to do it.

Above: Mosaica, San Francisco Mission District. 151 residential units. Mix of uses in the building includes: light-industrial workshops; low-income family housing; supportive housing; subsidized housing; market-rate condominiums and community space. Design: WRT/Daniel Solomon E.T.C.

© Lewis N. Villegas, Vancouver, February 2012

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