Councillor calls for easily accessible housing database

Vancouver city council want staff to investigate whether a list of all the social and non-market housing in Vancouver can be posted on the city’s website in a more accessible way for readers. 

The move by council, which was introduced by NPA Coun. George Affleck, is getting the motion referred in an effort to consolidate the information about this type of housing that is currently in eight separate databases.

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Vancouver City Hall before the meeting on Tuesday, September 19

“It’s pretty nerdy in a lot of ways – this is about data – it’s not meant to be political in any way,” Affleck said. “It’s something that I think will be really helpful to all of us and for staff and for the public to be able to understand where all these units are in the city.”

Affleck wants details that include the project name, exact street address, number of units, ownership, housing focus and more. Here is the list of the motion’s details in its entirety on page 2.

Currently, there are eight databases one has to navigate through in order to get this information. Much of the information is available on VanMap – a tool provided on the city’s website that allows you to view, search, create and print maps of Vancouver – but not all.

Vision Vancouver Coun. Councillor Andrea Reimer supported the intent of the motion, but said she is “concerned about a ninth database to the eight we already have”. So, the referral she made to her city staff is in order to meet the intent of the motion to meet the request in an open data format with the least amount of duplication.

Another concern of Reimer’s is that Microsoft Excel – the industry standard for spreadsheets – is not considered to be an open format.

“While I think it’s an important one to have [Excel] for its ubiquity, I would hope that we also have a truly open format,” Reimer said.

Affleck wants the database to be easily accessible and thinks that the “value of having an Excel sheet that’s downloadable, as opposed to some kind of database that is virtual and you can’t download limits the opportunity to for people to use the information they have.”

Counc. Kerry Jang said he was happy to support the motion but suggests there should be separate databases where vulnerable people’s information is kept private. “Places where battered women are staying – we do not want them identified. Also, the locations of where children who have been abused…” Jang said. “This must be ethical. We have to understand there is a great responsibility with this and we must be aware of some of these considerations that are incredibly important.” 

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