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Mayor Kennedy Stewart addresses state of the city one year into tenure

Last Updated Nov 7, 2019 at 5:16 pm PST

Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart smiles while addressing supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Summary

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart delivered his first "State of the City" address Thursday

One year into his tenure, he says priorities remain: affordable housing, tackling the overdose crisis, transit to UBC

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Doubling down on last year’s campaign promises, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says he remains committed to affordable housing, tackling the opioid crisis and bringing rapid transit to UBC.

Stewart delivered his first “State of the City” address Thursday.

“Housing, overdoses, and SkyTrain to UBC. I really know just from my political experience that if you’re not focused, you don’t accomplish as much, so I keep checking with citizens that they want these to be the priorities and they keep telling me: yes, yes, yes,. So I’ll just keep working.”

Stewart says credit for progress on all three issues is due, in part, to cooperation from the B.C. NDP and the newly reelected Federal Liberals.

Housing

“I do feel that we’ve made some movement on housing but have to do a lot more,” he says, adding he hopes to secure more federal funding for housing in the next year to add to the $184 million received from CMHC in August.

In 2019, homelessness in the city hit a record-high with 2,223 homeless people counted in the annual homeless count, over 600 of whom were unsheltered.

Stewart says the city has added over 600 units of temporary modular housing, with another 58 units set to open in February.

The mayor is hopeful that these units–combined with added shelter spaces–will offer the approximately 100 people encamped at Oppenheimer Park another place to go.

Clearing the park of campers isn’t within the city’s jurisdiction, so Stewart says council is are focused on what they can do.

“We’re looking at other options to just get those folks the housing that they need,” he says. “Really it comes down to having a place for them to go and that’s what I’m focussed on.”

The Mayor also points to Wednesday’s “historic” decision to expropriate two run-down hotels on the Downtown Eastside as a move toward creating much-needed housing.

“For us, we’re thinking what do we do next? And that is erasing that memory of the suffering and putting housing in there that’s really going to work in the community.”

The opioid crisis 

Stewart formed the Mayor’s Overdose Emergency Task Force shortly after taking office.

Since then, the number of overdose deaths has remained about the same despite the best efforts of front-line workers, first responders and health professionals who seem to be fighting a losing battle.

RELATED: Vancouver seeks safe drug supply, more funding in overdose battle

Stewart says simply stabilizing the number of deaths is not enough, the number needs to start going down.

Transit:

The mayor says he spoke with newly-reelected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday as part of his lobbying to Ottawa for funding for transit projects.

“Really it’s the federal folks that have to show willingness, and I feel like they’re very receptive to what I’m bringing their way,” he explains. “You know, I’m going to Ottawa for example at the end of November to meet with the new ministers to see what we can do to get investments here in Vancouver.”

In addition to making the case for federal funding, Stewart is working to secure it from other sources.

“The next step for the SkyTrain to UBC is a $50 million business case. We are building partnerships to make that happen.”