A new poll reveals that more than three-quarters of Vancouverites support the city’s temporary modular homes program.
People 55 and older and high-income earners were most likely to “strongly support” the controversial program to tackle homelessness, according to the poll commissioned by the City of Vancouver.
“When I first proposed this 10 years ago, there was a lot of fear from people who didn’t want homeless people in their neighbourhoods,” said Vision Coun. Kerry Jang. “They were already there, but very good at hiding.”
Initially, there was opposition among parents of children who worried that drugs and crime would follow when homeless tenants moved in, fears that ran deepest in the Asian community, he said.
“I was spit on and jostled at public meetings, but clearly people have really come around, especially now that Marpole is open,” said Jang, who is retiring from politics this fall.
While 62 per cent of East Asian respondents support the modular housing program, only 18 per cent “strongly support” it. By contrast, 81 per cent of people of European descent support the project, with 49 per cent professing strong support.
The City of Vancouver has plans on the books to house 560 homeless people in prefabricated mini-homes that can be quickly assembled into buildings. The buildings can later be dismantled.
The provincial government has supplied $66 million to build housing for 600 people on vacant and under-utilized city-owned lots all over the city.
The program has already housed 78 people in two buildings in Marpole and another 78 in two buildings near the Downtown Eastside. Two 39-unit buildings are currently being installed on Ash Street and Kaslo Street. Four other projects are in the planning stages.
Support varies by neighbourhood, with the biggest numbers in Downtown Vancouver (85 per cent strongly or somewhat support) and the lowest on the East Side (70 per cent).
“Downtown is where people can most easily see how serious homelessness is and they are ready to try anything,” said pollster Mario Canseco of Research Co.
Strong support among well-off and centre-right voters shows that Vancouverites are finally ready to try radical solutions to homelessness, particularly because the project has always been pitched as temporary, he said.
“Support is insanely high and I think it shows that everyone is concerned about housing affordability,” he said. “If this crisis weren’t as widespread, support might be lower, but Liberal voters, NPA voters, over 55s are all on board.”
While media coverage has been fixated on opposition to the installations, Jang says objectors are a vocal minority. Opposition to the program was focused on the Marpole units, where the Caring Citizens of Vancouver Society staged heated protests.
Caring Citizens could not be reached for comment.
Jang notes that city council was initially split over the plan, but eventually came to unanimous agreement.
NPA mayoral candidate Ken Sim — who hopes to succeed retiring Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson — plans to visit a modular home site and collect feedback from neighbours and other stakeholders.
“From this experiment, we’ll take what works well and address any concerns moving forward,” he said.
Even where there were differences in support, they are generally small differences.
The largest percentage of “strongly support” responses came from people 55 and older (47 per cent), people living downtown (57 per cent) and people who rent (51 per cent) rather than own their home.
The people most likely to “strongly oppose” the program were men (12 per cent), West Side residents (10 per cent) and homeowners (10 per cent).
The poll of 400 people who live in Vancouver was conducted between June 27 and 29. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.