Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a rallying cry to young renters at a keynote address on Wednesday, hailing the work of Millennial lobby group Generation Squeeze.
Robertson was speaking at an event on affordable housing hosted by the Urban Land Institute, where he decried the way the media focuses on homeownership.
“It’s actually renters that make up the majority in the City of Vancouver and renters, if anything face more difficult challenges,” said Robertson.
“There are really dire circumstances for people renting in this city. It’s important to acknowledge that.”
Robertson recalled a young professional couple with a two-year-old child, who shared their story with him after searching for a new rental for months.
“They finally found a place only to discover it was infested with mice and silverfish. They could not stay there with a two year old, and had to go right back to square one.”
‘Politics responds to those who show up’
Robertson called the current housing crisis “unprecedented” and said it had hit Vancouver’s youngest residents the hardest.
“People under 40 are at a huge disadvantage in the market here. But there’s good work and awareness being built,” he said, citing the work of Generation Squeeze.
The lobby group aims to give young people a political voice and has been a longstanding advocate for more affordable homes in Vancouver.
Dr. Paul Kershaw, UBC professor and Founder of Generation Squeeze, told Daily Hive that Vancouver needs more young people involved in the discussion.
“Politics responds to those who organize and show up,” said Kershaw. “So often, when people are talking about our housing strategy in this city, you tend to have a group of people who already have homes, talking about how they don’t want things to change.”
‘There’s a lot of backlash from young people’
Robertson said he had already noticed more young people have begun attending public hearings at City Hall, with many begging the City to find them somewhere to live.
“That’s something we didn’t see for many years,” said Robertson. “Right now there’s a lot of backlash from young people.”
“The challenge for young people is that they don’t have a lot of time and resources to amplify that voice.”
But, Robertson said, that is changing, with Generation Squeeze and other organizations like it empowering a lot of young people.
Single-family neighbourhoods must change
Laying out his plan to reset the housing situation in Vancouver, Robertson said the City planned to increase supply in the following areas:
- City land – The City is the biggest landowner in Vancouver, said Robertson, and six key sites could generate more than 3,000 homes.
- Land around transit stations – There are ambitious plans being developed for Grandview Woodland and Joyce Street Station, said Robertson.
- Arterial streets – Robertson said there was a high demand for densification here, but unhealthy speculation, and he wanted affordability to be “baked in” to the formula.
- Multi-family neighbourhoods – Robertson suggested increasing density in aging apartment blocks that need reinvestment, adding a fourth floor, for example
- Single-family neighbourhoods – Robertson said the time is right to advance this conversation, and change these areas to provide homes for more families.
“Warning bells are ringing,” said Robertson. “A neighbourhood that’s made up of perfect character, heritage, $5-million homes [is] not healthy, frankly, if there’s no kids there.
“I want to be sure the changes we make are a win-win – they maintain the character of our single-family home neighbourhoods, make them vibrant again.”
‘We can get more influence’
Kershaw praised the Mayor’s approach, saying that Generation Squeeze’s 26,000 members also pushed for and helped generate the political will for the Empty Homes Tax.
“If we grow by thousands and thousands more, we can get more influence and have mayors throughout the province giving us a shoutout,” said Kershaw.
“Right now we’re heading into a provincial election and we need to be reaching out to our provincial MLAs and the people running for office.”
Robertson said he would work tirelessly over the next few years to try to make Vancouver more affordable and create a more inclusive, resilient city.
“It’s an uphill battle but it’s one that we cannot give into,” he said. “Vancouver’s citizens have never just settled for how it is, and assumed that that’s how it’s going to be.
“We as a city have always strived to do more… and that’s what we have to do from this day forward. I’m looking forward to striving to build a better city.”
How to take action
Generation Squeeze is aiming to sign up a million members. To find out more about Generation Squeeze and join up for free, head to gensqueeze.ca.