Opinion: Rentals, homeowners, and hospice can co-exist in Shaughnessy

Jun 28 2019, 5:02 am

Written by Vancouver city councillor Christine Boyle.

On Tuesday night, I voted in favour of a 21 unit secure-rental townhouse development on Granville Street near 29th Avenue, which would be next door to a beautiful hospice. I did so after spending many, many hours listening to speakers, and reading emails, arguing thoughtfully both for and against. In the end, to be honest, I’m quite discouraged that it didn’t pass.

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I have had the honour, personally and in my work as a United Church minister, of sitting with many people who were dying. I have witnessed peaceful deaths, and I have witnessed difficult and distressing deaths. The loss of a loved one, be they family or friend, is a challenging experience for those involved. Having been through this myself, I know and deeply appreciate the important role that hospices play to guide family and friends through this heartbreaking time.

I love hospice. I have been a direct witness to how hospices make the process of death more peaceful and comfortable, through deep human connection, capable and compassionate care, and yes, a comfortable and low-stress environment. I’ve seen that level of care provided in various urban settings, with sounds of life and activity not far away.

When my paternal grandmother was dying in the hospital this past winter, my sisters and I would visit her with our lively young children, and I could see how she delighted in them. The kids giggled and played, visitors streamed in and out, and hospital staff went about their work. She was an incredible woman, and in her final weeks, as in the 95 years of her life, she was surrounded by love.

Most of the time, life and death are not so far apart. And as a culture we have important work to do in deconstructing barriers between the living and the dying. Death is a natural, though difficult, progression of life. Not to be isolated, but to be better understood. And the needs of the living and of the dying are not so different.

Over the past two weeks, council has heard from many Vancouver Hospice Society supporters who fear that this development will force the hospice to close. The feelings that they expressed are real because this has been an important place in their lives.

I have listened closely to these concerns, and was reassured in hearing from Vancouver Coastal Health that they have a long-term funding contract with the hospice, which they don’t expect will be altered by the development. I am also aware that there is a severe shortage of hospice beds in Vancouver, and that there are other hospices that exist in more dense settings where people in the last days of their lives, and their families, receive exceptional care.

I am sensitive to the fears that Vancouver Hospice Society supporters are experiencing, in not wanting to lose this precious place. And, having listened intently, I was not convinced that we would lose it.

I also believe that life and death can coexist. I have seen it many times, in my work and in my life. In fact, there is great benefit to the coexistence of community and hospice, including increasing the visibility of these critical services, encouraging healthy conversation about death and dying, and increasing public support for the funding needed to expand hospice service.

Concerns of the hospice have been central to this Public Hearing, which is reasonable. But I also want to speak about housing.

I am enthusiastic about secure rental housing that allows 21 more families to call this particular neighbourhood home. Twenty-one families, who for a long time have been unable to afford to live in the neighbourhood due to exclusionary zoning.

Like many young-ish people, I am regularly saying goodbye to friends who are getting priced out of the city, or can’t find a stable place to live when they have kids. I acknowledge that the proposed housing won’t be affordable for many, even most, people in Vancouver. But I think it’s an important precedent to establish rental housing in a part of Shaugnessy where it has long been off-limits, and it’s a step towards more deeply affordable rental housing in the future.

Also, I’m very nervous about the precedent that this decision sets. If we are going to uphold the exclusionary zoning of wealthy neighbourhoods like Shaugnessy, rejecting rental there for an assortment of not-entirely-clear reasons, then either new rental will continue to be predominantly focused on East Vancouver, or it won’t get built at all.

I want to see many secure rental housing projects move forward in Shaughnessy. I’d like to see more secure market rental and below-market affordable rental throughout our lowest density neighbourhoods.

This was a challenging public hearing process. Throughout it I did what I am here to do — I listened, reflected, weighed the evidence, and made the best decision I could, based on the facts in front of us. That’s what I will continue to do going forward.

A peaceful death is a beautiful thing. Hospice care, and a strong and well resourced public healthcare system, are key parts of that. Secure rental homes in walkable, transit-oriented neighbourhoods are important, too — for families, for downsizing seniors, for newcomers to Vancouver, for all of us. We shouldn’t pit these things against one another.

I want to see housing for every income level in every neighbourhood. No more neighbourhoods that are walled off (or enveloped in hedges). This means undoing exclusionary zoning. This means not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. This means approving purpose-built rental in Shaughnessy.

I hope this project comes back to us a block away in any direction. I hope then we’d see it approved. And more to follow. I hope renters and families have homes in our city.

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