5-Year Old Mielle van den Berg’s Gift Sweetens Lives

Mielle van den Berg planned her fifth birthday to be an opportunity to help others. Instead of bringing presents to her party, young van den Berg told her friends she wanted to “collect money for the people who don’t have houses.” Her charity of choice was the Tikva Housing Society, where her father Lucas is the treasurer, and she raised $500 for the organization.

Mielle was the honored donor at the Tikva annual general meeting, held on March 21 at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. Daniel Bar-Dayan, secretary and emcee for the event, introduced her, as well as Olga Ilich, who was the guest speaker.

Ilich is a former B.C. cabinet minister with extensive experience in the real estate sector, and was the co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability along with Mayor Gregor Robertson. According to the City of Vancouver’s website, the task force’s mandate was “to examine conditions that exist in Vancouver which may act as barriers to the creation of affordable housing and the steps necessary to protect existing affordable housing, and to identify opportunities for increasing affordable housing.”

Ilich, who was born in the Netherlands and whose mother was a survivor of the Holocaust, summarized some of the task force’s findings – the full report can be found on the city’s website. According to Ilich, in 2006, the city’s focus shifted away from building new housing toward subsidization for seniors and creating new units, mainly for special needs residents. These decisions left a gap in support for low-income working families’ housing needs.

Ilich presented a summary of the city’s plan to fill those gaps, which includes a proposed interim zoning policy to increase housing choices across neighborhoods, higher density along transit lines for families without cars, and encouraging more affordable housing styles such as row housing or co-housing. Most of the solutions attempt to deal with the very high cost of real estate in Vancouver.

Tikva Housing Society’s primary mandate is accessing opportunities for safe, affordable housing, primarily for working-age, Jewish, low-income adults and families. Tikva’s third housing forum, in May 2012, Bricks and Mortar or Rent Subsidies?, was designed to bring the Jewish community together to create affordable housing solutions. According to Tikva president Sam Cukier, a sukkah (shelter) housing forum event is being planned for the upcoming year.

Currently, Tikva operates the Dany Guincher House near 71st Avenue and Granville Street with 11 units; it helped include five units for the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society in the Dunbar Apartments at 17th Avenue and Dunbar Street; and it provides short-term rent subsidies. In late 2008, a major gift was secured from the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Fund. The $1 million has been committed towards the purchase of another building, to be known as Esther Dayson House, which is expected to include between 10-25 units for the most vulnerable in our community. Given current market conditions, the building and requisite life safety upgrade renovations are likely to cost $2 million to $3 million.

There is still much need for affordable housing: 14 percent of Jewish residents of Vancouver live below the poverty line, meaning that more than 3,000 people have significant financial challenges in paying for food, shelter, clothing and transportation. Most of these people have to pay more than 50 percent of their income for shelter – according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., housing should account for a maximum of 30 percent of gross income.

Susan J. Katz is a freelance writer and Rabbinic Chaplain Intern living in Vancouver www.susanjkatz.com

Article originally published in the Jewish Independent newspaper, April 26 2013 edition under the title: “Girl Donates Money to Tikva” 
http://jewishindependent.ca/archives/april13/archives13april26-08.html