Roundtable 7: The Income Gap and Poverty Reduction


Metro Vancouver has the 3rd highest rate of income inequality in Canada, increasing by more than twice the national average since 1982. Vancouver also has the biggest gap between housing prices and income in North America. At the same time poverty rates in the City of Vancouver are dropping as gentrification impels low-income people out of the city to the suburbs.

  • What are the drivers of the growing income gap in Vancouver?
  • How can workers in service industries such as restaurants, hospitals, and tourism afford to commute to their minimum wage or part time jobs? What are the incentives to work?
  • What initiatives and policies can be built upon to implement the City’s poverty reduction strategy? What barriers need to be overcome?
  • What is the likely impact of BC’s poverty reduction strategies on the City?
  • What partnerships are needed to address the income gap?
  • A very small proportion of people on social assistance are “unemployed employables,” the rest are in desperate need of social assistance. How can we create a more compassionate city and effective social safety net?

Roundtable Discussion

12 people participated in this roundtable discussion including the table lead Kate Hodgson and notetaker Paisley McHaffie. There was good diversity in backgrounds with staff and volunteers from community organizations working on poverty and employment issues, as well as people focused on higher level economic development issues in the city.

[The City should] become a bit more brazen and own the power that is there.

Trish Kelly

Discussion focused on the need to reduce barriers and increase access to a variety of types of economic activity, as well as to public facilities and services (e.g. benefits and childcare) which impact both poverty levels and people’s ability to work. Participants highlighted the need to think of income generation and poverty reduction broadly and not just in terms of traditional jobs. Participants also discussed how all these issues (income gap, poverty reduction, access to services) intersect with Indigenous culture and the need for cultural safety training. They also discussed how the city could more effectively leverage the power it has to support poverty reduction strategies such as enforcement of its own agreements with developers to provide amenities and ease zoning restrictions for social enterprises.

Housing disparities are becoming increasingly visible in the city. Photo courtesy of Urban Arts Architecture.

Key Findings

  • Reframing the notion of work, conceived of as an income generation spectrum instead of the neoliberal perspective (formal jobs).
  • Income generation gap – even with good wages housing is unaffordable.
  • Need to incorporate an Indigenous lens on economic development – from grassroots all the way to city council – funding, training.
  • Importance of engagement with residents.
  • Childcare is a strong pillar in poverty reduction.
  • We need to eliminate barriers for people applying for benefits e.g. unaware of programs, long wait times, language barriers, misinformation, etc.
  • Community services e.g. thrift stores, food security, social programming are important supports.
  • Vancouver has a diverse economy and low unemployment but wages are too low for the living expenses e.g. housing & childcare.
  • Gentrification is impacting both housing and local businesses.
  • Need to understand and support a broad range of economic activities e.g. unpermitted street vending, binning etc.
  • Stories are important to understanding barriers: intersectionality of barriers to employment.
  • Build from the grassroots up. Safety net, sense of security helps realize human potential.


  • Enforce and expand existing policies such as Collective Bargaining Agreements, Community Benefit Agreements, etc. to create more economic space/opportunities for equity seeking groups.
  • Use city owned assets and ensure profits generated go back into neighbourhoods to reduce poverty and mitigate gentrification.
  • Strengthen support for (0-12) affordable accessible childcare to enable parents to work.
  • Apply an Indigenous lens to city policy, establish a permanent Aboriginal commission and adequately fund Aboriginal relations manager’s work throughout the city.
  • Use civic facilities to improve communication with residents (for community planning).
  • Increase housing (city land) for low income people and reduce/eliminate transit costs for low income people.
  • Improve sharing of data and transparency for evidence-based decision-making.
  • Improve access to employment, training, education etc. especially for people with barriers, potentially by using city’s licensing powers or tax breaks e.g. for film industry.

Related Initiatives

Raycam is a neighbourhood centre for old and young with recreation and social activities, where new skills can be learned. It provides personal and family support services including out of school, pre-school and day-care for children, a gym, hobby and club rooms, and a drop-in lounge where coffee is available.

The Vancouver Economic Commission works to position Vancouver as a globally recognised city for innovative, creative, and sustainable business. It focuses on low-carbon sectors, green economy, tech industry, digital entertainment, impact businesses, and social enterprises. Vancouver has one of the most diverse economies in Canada with low barriers for participation but is challenged by low wages, temporary and unstable work.

Exchange Inner City is a community backbone organizations for Community Economic Development work in the DTES. Exchange Inner City is comprised of over 50 members that represent non-profits, local businesses, social enterprises, and local residents within the DTES who collaborate together to collectively foster a vibrant and inclusive local economy where all residents can live full and rewarding lives. All are welcome to join in our work.

Local card is an initiative of Exchange Inner City and focuses on retail gentrification and social inclusion. Participating retailers give discounts or otherwise make their stores more accessible to local community members in the DTES (e.g. cafes with bathrooms open for all).

The Downtown Eastside Business Directory is a digital hub dedicated to the promotion of Shopping Local in the “Greater Downtown Eastside” (DTES) Business Community.

The Living Wage for Families campaign certifies employers across B.C. who pay a living wage and advocates for government policies that help families make ends meet. The Campaign puts a living wage for families at $20.91/hour to cover housing transportation, childcare, and food. So far it has certified 130 employers in B.C. The Campaign is beginning to address the issue of precarious contracts.

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition advocates for legislated targets and timelines to significantly reduce poverty and homelessness. As a member of the former Vancouver Advisory Committee on Children, Youth and Families, it advocated for affordable childcare. The new provincial government has been responsive on child care, for example, reducing fees in licensed childcare facilities.

The Potluck Cafe Society is a social enterprise creating jobs and providing healthy food for people living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside since 2001. Potluck aspires to provide a living wage but is not yet able to, as well as stability and to help with social isolation as a viable anti-poverty intervention. But the cafe is only one part of their employees’ lives, and broader support is needed from the government and other sectors of society.

Pidgin Picket is a snowballing grassroots gathering of people challenging gentrification and over surveillance by police. They want to redirect rising police budgets.

The Developmental Disabilities Association is a community living agency that provides over 50 community-based programs and services, including employment placement, to children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families.

LIV advocates for a non-taxable Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) to replace our current exploitative and paternalistic welfare system, and reduce inequality in the labour market, without leaving anyone worse off.

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