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Another report card, another stagnant rate. One in five children still lives in poverty in BC, as reported in  First Call’s 2019 Child Poverty Report Card.  However, despite BC seeing 18 years in a row with higher than national average child poverty rates, there has been progress and advocates insist there are solutions.


First Call’s 23rd Annual Child Poverty Report Card was released on January 14, 2020.  They report that the overall poverty rate across Canada is shrinking and credit the federal Canada Child Benefit (launched in July 2016); and the increase in household incomes for families receiving welfare and disability payments.  It is anticipated that further poverty reductions will be achieved when BC’s new Child Opportunity Benefit comes into effect this fall. 


There have been successes, however, First Call also says that “For the first time since 2009, we see an increase in lone-parent families to make up over half of BC’s poor children”. In addition, the data shows that nearly half (44.9%) of the kids living in poverty identify as recent immigrant children, one-third (30.9%) as Indigenous children living outside of First Nations communities and one-quarter (23%) as racialized (2016 census). 


There is more work to be done. Next month, the BC Budget will be released. What would the poverty reduction advocates like to see supported by the government?  The list includes increasing the number of $10-a-day child care centres, offering No-Fee Childcare spaces for those families earning $45k or less, increasing income supports and providing affordable housing, targeting efforts to help those who have a higher risk of living in poverty, increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, raising income and disability assistance rates in line with actual living expenses (up to 75 per cent of the Market Basket Measure) and indexing them to inflation. The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition also says that the province’s poverty reduction strategy must adopt a gender-based lens to analyze how men, women, and non-binary people experience poverty differently.  


BC now has a poverty reduction strategy called, TogetherBC. We’ve seen positive impacts from the strategies that have been implemented so far.  And, yes, we can improve. If we want to live in an equitable and just society, we need to find solutions to address the systemic barriers facing those living in poverty. 


For more information:


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At this time of year, we are encouraged to “Create Memories Not Garbage”.  We are reminded that we all should be doing our part to make less waste. Our awareness level  has increased about food waste, single use plastics and taking our own bags when we go shopping. However, we need to be doing much more.  

We need to adopt an economy that operates within planetary boundaries and focuses on keeping materials in circulation (and out of the landfill). We need to be designing products that can be 'made to be made again' and powering the system with renewable energy. This is the circular economy.  

A circular economy “offers a solution to the growing problem of waste, generates economic growth, increases the number of local green jobs, and encourages  innovation.” The BC Minister for the Environment and Climate Change at #COP25Madrid discussed the circular economy and how the way we use waste and resources impacts climate change. 

The circular economy is also about sharing, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. As we welcome 2020, let’s do our part to support a circular economy and community economic development.

So, if you could do just one thing differently to create memories and reduce waste, what would it be? Visit the Metro Vancouver website for ideas! 

Learn more about how to accelerate the transition to a circular economy with best practices, case studies and worksheets from these websites: 

https://ceaccelerator.zerowastescotland.org.uk/ - exists to create a society where resources are valued and nothing is wasted; to influence and enable change. 

https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/concept - works with business, government and academia to build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.
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We need public development of non-market rental stock and social/supportive housing, including temporary modular housing. Our greatest housing need is for rental stock for low-to moderate-income households that is unprofitable for private-sector developers.  We need to change the assumption that private-sector developers should take the lead on building the housing that we need for people and community.  


Housing is for community not developers. Let’s look at the Little Mountain Housing site. Ten years ago the residents were removed and the buildings demolished on what was Vancouver’s first social housing site (built in 1954). The 15 acre site continues to be vacant. The community is calling on the government to #Take Back the Mountain (sign their petition) into public hands and “to build the kind of housing that people need and deserve in Vancouver.”


The City is taking a more planned approach toward approving new affordable housing (2018 Housing Strategy), including financial incentives for developers to build rental housing instead of condos. However, the construction of affordable housing is inadequate for the current needs let alone the anticipated future needs. There’s a case to be made for a more public planning model, including public land assembly, project financing and rental housing development for the large build-out we need.


How do we define “social housing” and “affordability”?  Recent Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative (CCPA) research considers affordability by looking at the hourly wage that would be required to afford an apartment and allocating no more than 30 per cent of pre-tax earnings to be spent on rent. In Metro Vancouver, a household needs a wage of $26.72 per hour to afford a one-bedroom and $35.43 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment. A person in a minimum wage job, on disability or social assistance cannot afford the current rents. 


We need a building program where priority is given to households in extreme housing

need. We need a range of housing options that work for people with different incomes and at different stages in their lives that include larger, family-sized units. The top 3 needs for public housing investment include the following:

  • Housing people who are homeless

  • Non-market rental housing that is locked in as affordable

  • Housing for seniors.


We can pay for this! CCPA has crunched the numbers.  We can move forward with a build-out program that would see the construction of 10,000 new units of non-market rentals, public housing and co-op housing per year. As an example, City Council just approved the first projects under the Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program, which they approved in November 2017 to create more affordable housing. The pilot allows for up to 20 buildings where at least 20 per cent of the residential units must be set aside for "moderate income households," defined as households earning between $30,000 and $80,000 per year. It’s a start! 


Read the CCPA report, “Planning for a build-out of affordable rental housing in Metro Vancouver”.

 
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We need social housing and welfare rates enough to cover basic rent in the city. There are 2,223 homeless people in Vancouver, up only 2.2% but there are more seniors, women and those who had housing now in the homeless count. It takes political will and all levels of government to address the problem. Read more in the just released  The Vancouver Homeless Count 2019 


In 2015, Medicine Hat declared it had ended chronic homelessness. The program continues to be successful. "Our definition of ending homelessness never did include the idea that it would never exist again, and that people would never fall back into that state of homelessness," said Jaime Rogers, the manager of homeless and housing at the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society. ​"We still need emergency shelters and we absolutely have people in our community that still experience homelessness. However, anyone who experiences being homeless is for a period that is "brief and short-lived," she said. 


The Mayor of Medicine Hat calls on provinces and Ottawa to provide the funding, but then to allow municipalities to implement strategies that makes the most sense wherever they're at. He says that their homeless strategy is saving taxpayers money in  terms of declining costs of crime, health care and child welfare services. 


Housing is for community not developers. On November 30, a rally was held at what was the Little Mountain Housing site. Ten years ago the residents were removed and the buildings demolished on what was Vancouver’s first social housing site (built in 1954). The 15 acre site continues to be vacant. A rally spokesperson says, “It was a successful social housing community. Many, many thousands of people grew up and lived their lives there. The buildings could have been renovated.”  The spokesperson adds, “It’s clear that the redevelopment of Little Mountain has been a failure. We are calling on the government to #Take Back the Mountain,’ to take the Little Mountain site into public hands and to build the kind of housing that people need and deserve in Vancouver.”


Read the  Vancouver Homeless Count 2019 Report 

Learn more about the Homeless Action Strategy in Alberta 

 
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STILL FROM MENSAKAS YOUTUBE VIDEO FOR ITS FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN. IMAGE: RIDERSXDERECHOS BCN/YOUTUBE

This recent article in VICE provides a great overview on how the digital economy can be re-oriented to promote worker co-ops, and other forms of social enterprise.  In particular, we have to consider people-based alternatives to the exploitative trends in the 'gig economy'. 

Worker co-ops are a model of worker ownership that can be a real alternative to transnational capitalism. Employee ownership, with one-member one-vote, emphasises the importance of the work, the worker, and the workplace; while it downplays the return to be paid to outside investors.  Growing tech companies now prosper by squeezing workers; Amazon, UBER, Facebook, and others create two classes - the very rich and the precarious poor. 

Many software and technology firms are worker owned at the start but 'sell out' as they grow.  However, some are committed to a co-op model long term. This is likely the future for co-ops in the Internet Age.  One in BC is Affinity Bridge.  In addition, one of the Affinity Bridge principals, Robin Puga, hosts Each For All on Vancouver Co-op Radio

In Montreal, an option to UBER has been created, called EVA; it is a novel hybrid of a worker and consumer co-op.  EVA now has over 18,000 members.  In BC MODO the car co-op is a great consumer co-op with a good core technology platform. 

Open-source software may give local projects the means to create their own apps and build their own successful co-op business, adapted to our device driven reality.  Such projects have a potential privacy side benefit if the user's personal data is not being aggregated and sold to the Big Data marketing machine.    

 

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What actions can we take to make poverty an issue in the next provincial election? How can we ensure there is coordination of the CleanBC Plan and the poverty reduction strategy? These, and other questions are being asked by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) of its’ members. CCEC and our members,  Raise the Rates and the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks are part of this discussion. 

After a decade of advocacy work by the BCPRC and other groups, the BC Government released TogetherBC, their first poverty reduction strategy. It addressed some needs for children and families in poverty through the Child Opportunity Benefit, and a continued commitment to building a quality, affordable child care system in BC.

However, there are still huge gaps. The BCPRC has identified priorities that are not addressed in TogetherBC. They include “better access to good food for families, enhanced investments in affordable transportation, and improved income security, including assistance rates.” The coalition is asking the government to address housing, child care, education, employment, health, transportation, access to justice and food security. Learn more and sign their open letter to the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. 

Another related initiative is the BC Governments’ Clean BC Plan.  There is a public consultation process underway through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy to develop a clean growth strategy. The BCPRC is working to ensure there is coordination between the poverty reduction strategy and the clean growth strategy. There are three papers for consideration: clean transportation; clean, efficient buildings; and a clean growth program for industry. Unfortunately, BCPRC says that none of the proposed initiatives apply a “poverty/equity lens” to ensure accessibility to low income people. Read their submission for a Clean Growth Strategy where they outline recommendations for housing affordability, transportation, and education and training for good jobs. 

You can be involved and provide your feedback about the following topics:

Poverty is an election issue. We encourage our members to get involved. 

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) is an alliance of over 400 organizations in BC that have come together to raise awareness about poverty and inequality, and improve the health and well-being of all British Columbians.

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October 21, 2019 is Election Day in Canada. On that day, eligible voters exercise their right to vote for one of the candidates in their riding to represent them in the federal House of Commons.

First Call, the child and youth advocate organization created a toolkit to support individuals and community groups in their advocacy for legislation, policy and practice that benefit children and youth and their families.

Click here to see the kit online and to download. 

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BC ACORN's new study: "Barriers to Digital Equality in Canada” shows how home internet is used for vital life activities and at the same time remains unaffordable.  Read the report then send a message to your MP, the Prime Minister, and the Minister responsible that all people in Canada need to access affordable internet.

High speed Internet access has become increasingly important for participation in essential facets of life, from job searching, homework to accessing government services and seeking information.  However, in Canada, thousands of low income families cannot afford high speed internet at home.  Cost is a major barrier to digital equity.  In a recent survey of ACORN members, over 35% of the 500 respondents had to make sacrifices such as food, clothing or transit, to afford the internet. Further, only 76% of respondents with household incomes below $10,000 have home internet access.

This "digital divide" excludes low-income individuals and families from what the United Nations now considers to be a human right, comparable with freedom of speech.

ACORN Canada is leading the fight for affordable home access to high speed internet for all residents of Canada!

Take Action Today.  Click here for more information and to Add Your Voice to support the campaign.

Click here to access the full report.     

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The Canadian Government is investing up to $184 million to construct affordable housing on city-owned sites. There are plans for up to 1,100 units across Vancouver to be funded through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The first funded projct, Pierview Homes, is a 140-unit co-operative housing development  in the River District of southeast Vancouver.  Learn more about this initiative in the full article  here.

Another recent announcement is the First Time Home Buyer Incentive which launches Sept. 2. This Incentive helps qualified first-time homebuyers reduce their monthly mortgage carrying costs without adding to their financial burdens. Learn more about the program here.

Be sure to call CCEC and talk with our mortgage experts about your options. 

The Federal Government says that every Canadian deserves to have a safe and affordable place to call home. With this in mind, in 2017 they launched the National Housing Strategy and aim to cut homelessness in half.

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BC has a high rate of foreign ownership. Why? Wealthy people in unstable regimes want to buy here; we have a history of 'selling passports or residency' to wealthy families; and our current tax system subsidizes foreign ownership. The tax called the Speculation and Vacancy Tax (SVT) is aimed at limiting speculation, not necessarily taxing “speculators”.

Read this article for more information  The Speculation and Vacancy Tax: An Explainer Josh Gordon School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University March 4, 2019.  A few points from the article are noted here.

CRA  allows a wealthy person to access all of the social services and public amenities as the high-earning local individual, but not pay income taxes. They can file as a non-tax resident, even if their family resides here. This is the so called “satellite family” situation. Gordon, in his article, states that we can address this issue in the tax system by imposing a property surtax on families who have most of their income earned abroad. The speculation component of the SVT seeks to address a tax avoidance problem. 

However, there are many exemptions and foreign owners and satellite families are able to avoid a speculation tax liability if they rent out their properties to an arms-length tenant, in whole or in part. The  SVT aims to encourage unused housing units into the rental market with vacancy taxes. For many,  housing sitting empty, especially as speculative investments, in the midst of a housing crisis is unacceptable.

So, “Why don’t we just ban foreign ownership already?” Some have urged banning foreign ownership as an alternative to the SVT. With the foreign buyer tax, currently at 20%, purchases by foreign buyers are already down substantially at only 2-3 percent of total purchases last year in affected areas. 

The housing crisis is not an easy problem to solve. Learn more by reading this article about the SVT - Speculation and Vacancy Tax and it's intent and aims.  Tell us what you think. 

Read this article for more information  The Speculation and Vacancy Tax: An Explainer Josh Gordon School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University March 4, 2019.​

 

 

 

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