Addressing Adequate Housing in Vancouver

Access to affordable housing is a perennial issue in a city as expensive as Vancouver and one Allard School of Law Professor is using it as a catalyst to bring people together—from her students to city officials and policy makers to the general public. Allard School of Law Professor Margot Young has taken on housing access as a significant area of study and advocacy, including recently taking on a major role in the week long Re:Address housing conference which was held in late October, 2016. Her role included, among other things, speaking and moderating panel discussions.

Her interest in housing evolved as a “logical offshoot” from work she was doing around poverty, and social and economic rights.

“Clearly, the issues of low income in Vancouver include access to adequate housing,” Young says. “I was engaged immediately by the interconnections between social citizenship, local advocacy, and Vancouver’s housing crisis.”

It’s a passion that she’s been eager to share with students at the Allard Law, too, by developing opportunities for them to engage in advocacy and research work around housing which draws on their legal education as a tool for social change.

“Students benefit immensely from seeing, in practice, how meaningful their legal knowledge is to communities struggling for justice in our society. Students get a taste of how they can, as members of the legal profession, make a difference,” Young says, adding that “community research locates what the students are learning in the classroom in reference to the real world.”

Monika Wilson and Montana Cardinal, two students who have worked with Professor Young since they started at Allard Law in 2014, were both involved in the Re:Address conference as well. From particular insights to an enriched sense of the role of law in social issues, both Wilson and Cardinal pointed to the many benefits of the event.

Wilson worked with a team of students from other disciplines including architecture, civil engineering, business administration, and community and regional planning on research, design and planning for months toward the goal of the Re:Address conference. Wilson says that one of the highlights was to see the general public engaging with issues of housing access and justice.

In terms of what she learned, she notes that one of the first events of Re:Address week, a panel on the “Right to Adequate Housing,” was especially enlightening. One speaker emphasized the idea of housing as a right, in the same way that healthcare was made a universal right for Canadians, and Wilson says that she came away with a deeper understanding of how the common conception of “affordable housing” fails to account for the realities of many diverse Canadian households, which would better be understood as the need for “adequate housing.”

As an Indigenous student, the “Indigenous Design Insights” panel was particularly meaningful for Wilson. Bringing together Indigenous architects from New Zealand, the US, and Canada to explore innovative design ideas, it discussed principles for creating common space, intergenerational housing, and culturally functional spaces. Those principles, Wilson said, are “necessary for culturally adequate housing policy” and “critical for Canadian cities to understand and engage with during this current era of reconciliation.”

“It was fantastic that this panel was a priority and highlight of the summit, and that Indigenous design was emphasized as being critical to the well-being of all who reside in global cities,” Wilson said. 

For her part, Cardinal volunteered as a notetaker during the conference, and dedicated her time to some of the public events that occurred around the city.

“I appreciated hearing a range of different views and hearing what other cities around the globe were doing in their city and for the people who live there,” Cardinal said. “As a law student, I was also very encouraged to see others looking to the law for help, but also looking and thinking critically about the law and its role in enabling and/or preventing access to affordable housing.”

She said she believes that what she learned during the conference, and the diverse perspectives she heard there, will help her in the future practice of law. For Professor Young, this is the goal of experiential learning.

“Students were in the thick of high level, expert discussions of housing law and policy, getting a chance to see how decision makers struggle with tough social and economic issues,” Young says. “It was, I think, a rich experience, with learning in a variety of streams.”

This goal is also part of the Housing Lab, launched after the conference as a continuing partnership between the City of Vancouver and UBC. The Housing Lab is meant to continue pursuing solutions to housing access. The idea is to have ongoing “collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects on municipal housing provision and regulation.”

For students who participate, Young says that the hope is that their involvement “enriches their understanding of special justice issues in the City and how what they learn at UBC is valued, appreciated, and enhanced by involvement with City planners, lawyers, and policymakers.”

While affordable housing remains a work in progress in Vancouver—and in many major cities worldwide—Professor Young and Allard Law play an important role in bringing people together to work toward the common goal of adequate housing for all.