Semester in Dialogue cohort hosts discussion on the housing crisis in Vancouver

Dialogue was focused around recommendations drawn from four cities that served as case studies

Courtesy of SFU Semester in Dialogue

By Paul Choptuik, Coordinating News Editor

On Tuesday, June 18, SFU’s current Semester in Dialogue cohort facilitated a discussion titled “Youthless City: Global to Local Housing Solutions.” The event was held at the SFU World Art Centre, aimed at promoting dialogue around the current housing crisis in Vancouver.

It was an open event, with attendees varying in age, occupation, and background. This was touched on by the event moderators at the start.

“We’ve arrived at this conversation with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. As you go home tonight, please do not let other peoples’ perspectives affect your mood. There is no right or wrong [ . . . ] we accept and make place for different contributions.”

After, attendees were split into four groups. The groups rotated among four stations, with each representing a different city: Vienna, Montreal, Hong Kong, and Berlin. Each station also had an infographic that gave statistical information about the city. Some of them also recommended policy changes to help solve Vancouver’s housing crisis, based on that station’s chosen city.

Using some of these as starting points, facilitators initiated discussions on how and what must be done to solve Vancouver’s housing crisis.

Some of the recommendations included rezoning industrial zoned land for non-market housing, restructuring the city of Vancouver’s zoning regulations, and increasing access to social housing.

Students will be posting their findings to the Semester in Dialogue webpage at a later date.

The event included a discussion panel that consisted of Sekani Dakelth, a Downtown Eastside-based activist, and Leo Yu, director of community giving and operations at the hua foundation. It was moderated by Ana Mendez, a Semester in Dialogue student. Dakelth and Yu reflected on what they had observed throughout the dialogue.

Both noted that in any discussion on the topic of housing, it was critical to consider reconciliation.

“I don’t think you can talk about housing without talking about the land we’re on and the fact that it is unceded,” Yu remarked.

Dakelth added that she doesn’t use the term “unceded” because it presumes that elsewhere, like in Eastern Canada, the land was ceded.

“In legal terms, [the land has], but in essence [the people have] been duped. They’ve been tricked into signing. And they’ve signed away all their rights and all their lands and they were duped centuries and centuries ago,” Dakelth elaborated.

Speaking to The Peak after the event, John Mwonga, third-year SFU student, noted that he was learning from the discussions he had been a part of.

“I’m always looking for places I can learn stuff [ . . . ] I would like to go into politics at some point at home and one of the crises we’re going through now at home is a housing crisis.”

SFU alumnus Shidan Giua praised the event, and the Semester in Dialogue program as a whole, as a good way to facilitate learning and start conversation on the housing crisis.

“It’s something we complain about, but it’s not an issue that we delve into deeper, and I think today was a great opportunity to not only inform ourselves but also to bounce our own opinions off each other,” he noted.

“Honestly, if my program had something similar to this, I think I’d still be in SFU today. I feel this is a much more conducive approach to learning than 400 kids in a classroom with a professor on a mic.”

This sentiment was reflected in the comments of Brian Portner, a member of the current Semester in Dialogue cohort, who is in his final semester in the health sciences department.

“I just felt like I wasn’t done at SFU yet. I felt like I wanted one more experience, and I wanted a different kind of experience. This course has been so different from any of the typically academic courses I have taken before,” he stated.

This was further echoed by Camille Ancessi, Ann Tony, and Vanessa Cheng, all of whom are also in the current cohort.

“It’s very different from a traditional classroom, but interacting with different ideas you come to very different conclusions than if you were in a classroom setting with people with very similar backgrounds,” explained Cheng.

After the dialogue had concluded, Jackie Wong, an instructor in the program, reflected on how important the event was in creating dialogue in the community.

“I think it’s very important to be able to show that there are many different voices that should and can be taking up space in public conversation, particularly about housing.

“A lot of times, if you Google ‘housing lecture Vancouver,’ the people who are usually stewarding those conversations are of a particular demographic that often excludes younger people, excludes LGBTQ people, excludes women, excludes racialized people, and it’s really important for us to be able to lift those voices up. I’m excited about how this event can productively take up space.”