Q+A: Mukhtar Latif
The city's new chief housing officer had never set foot here before taking the job in October. A former Londoner, Mukhtar Latif is charged with fixing Vancouver's affordability crisis
March 1, 2014
PETTI FONG How soon after you arrived did someone say, “I’ll never be able to afford to buy here”?
MUKHTAR LATIF Two months. The difference between here and London is there are row houses and townhouses there where you can get many homes on a single plot. Here, the house type is mainly a single-family dwelling. We have to create the opportunity to maximize the number of homes on a plot.
PF Should single-family homes become a relic in Vancouver?
ML In some neighbourhoods, homes were built when people could still afford to buy. The property has gone up, but income hasn’t. The person may be retired. If you have an area with few houses, with elderly people living there, you can see shops closing. Part of this is creating chances where people can get work so they can afford more for their housing.
PF So now you have to look into creating employment and more earning power too?
ML It’s not just the housing piece I’m looking at. It’s also employment and training.
PF What’s the difference between a house and a home?
ML A house is the physical part, and everyone needs a house in order to make a home. A home is something you create that gives you some sense of security. And it’s got to be happy. That’s the difficulty we have with many people we have to house. There are young people who have lived in care, had a rough ride in their childhood, and at 19 are left on their own. Also women fleeing domestic violence, other groups — we want to give them the opportunity to have a happy life and create that long-term home.
PF What do you think of the fact that we still have homeless people living in places like Stanley Park?
ML Now that we have the street homelessness count under 300, we want to understand who’s on the street and get to know them so we can try over the next year to find them suitable accommodation.
PF You once had a government job analyzing food and beverages for tax purposes. How did that job lead to where you are now?
ML I did a chemistry degree, and what that taught me was how to break down big problems and hopefully come up with a number of options we can bring forward.
PF If Vancouver were an element, which would it be?
ML Lithium — light and happy.
Latif began to work on housing the homeless in 1991. Key roles: assistant director, A2Dominion housing charity (10 years); director at Savills (five years)