Temporary modular housing in neighbourhoods helps kids gain empathy

With the housing disaster reaching surreal levels of chaos, the city’s plans to build 78 units of temporary modular housing in Marpole couldn’t come soon enough. And more is on the way—the province has committed $66 million to fund capital and operating costs for 600 temporary modular homes in Vancouver.

To be sure, while these are positive gains, they only begin to scratch the surface in this unforgiving and inhumane context of homelessness, record-low vacancy rates, and pervasive housing precarity. Also, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the decision to house people at the Pearson-Dogwood site has triggered a flood of anger from some community members who express concern about the proximity of the housing project to local schools.

According to this backlash, there is a worry that putting temporary modular housing at this location will produce a rise in crime and needles in the area, thereby endangering the safety of students. But of course, the biggest risk to children and young people isn’t putting temporary modular homes near their schools.

The biggest risk to children and youth is teaching them that particular parts of the city are off-limits to certain people. It's teaching them that those marginalized by homelessness and poverty are only deserving of our compassion and empathy within the prescribed and arbitrary limits of our personal comfort levels. As parents ourselves, these values of social hierarchy and exclusion are not ones we wish to instil in our kids.

The struggle for an affordable and just city not only entails contending with this harmful NIMBY logic—too often steeped in an unfounded fear of the poor and racialized "other"—it also requires reckoning with the policies that allows it to thrive in the first place. For instance, we need an end to zoning laws that prioritize luxury developments and sprawling homes, and we need to fight for policies that foreground affordable, social, supportive, and co-operative housing in every neighbourhood in the city. 

In this period of emergency, let's not fall back on the same tired tropes of anti-poor NIMBYism. Instead, let's fight for a city where there is affordable, social, and supportive housing available in every community; a city where no neighbourhood—no matter how affluent—is "above" housing society’s most vulnerable residents, a city where everyone has a safe and dignified place to live.

Let’s fight for that compassionate version of our city from here on in—the version where we all get to call this place we adore home.

Cara Ng and RJ Aquino are founding members of OneCity Vancouver.

This article can also be found online at the Georgia Straight

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