Vancouver becoming an apartheid city: former UN rapporteur

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Vancouver is “very quickly becoming an apartheid city,” according to a former United Nations special rapporteur on housing.

Miloon Kothari brought attention to Canada’s housing crisis in 2007 with a special emphasis on Vancouver during his cross country study tour. As he tours the Downtown Eastside (DTES) a decade later, he says the situation has only worsened.

“I’m quite taken aback by the situation,” he says. “What always strikes me is that Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and yet you have these levels of worsening poverty,” he says, adding Vancouver is still among one of the worst cities.

Apartheid is institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination, typically ascribed to South Africa between 1948 and 1991, however Kothari says it is taking on a new meaning today.

“It has since then been used to describe cities that have either through acts of omission or commission, created a morphological change where you have, by deliberate policy, isolated the wealthy neighbourhoods from the lower-income neighbourhoods,” he says.

Vancouver saw a 35 per cent increase in the number of homeless people between 2005 and 2016, according the city’s own count, the majority of whom are sheltered. Most of those who were homeless in 2016 had a physical or mental health condition and had been homeless for less than a year.

Hyper gentrification, concentration of poverty in the DTES, rising housing prices and sheer neglect have also led to a worsening situation, Kothari says. He blames all levels of government

He says Canada and Vancouver need a plethora of housing options including more social housing. He points to his home of New Delhi where he says shelters are open all day and specifically designated for women, men or families.

“This obsession with home ownership, I don’t understand it,” he says, adding Canada needs to move away from viewing homes as commodities and more as a right. He didn’t say how, if housing is a right, it could be provided without the use of the people’s own tax dollars.

Kothari’s anniversary tour also included a stop at the Balmoral hotel, where the city has given residents until June 12 to leave, due to the deteriorating and hazardous conditions in the building.

“Why do we have a situation where knowingly a place like the Balmoral is allowed to become what it is today?” Kothari says.

The housing advocate will meet with City of Vancouver officials Tuesday and says while he is willing to hear about new policies, he wants to ask them how the situation has worsened.

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