CCAP and low-income DTES residents desperately need your help at City Council on (probably) Jan. 21st

Hi everyone.  CCAP and low-income DTES residents desperately need your help at City Council on (probably) Jan. 21st.

That’s the day that council will hear speakers on staff recommendations to allow building heights to increase in the western DTES (roughly west of Gore).  This report is called the Historic Area Height Review.

Higher buildings mean more condos.  Condos are already outpacing new social housing in the DTES by a ratio of about 3 to 1.  And the condos in the Woodwards and other developments are having ripple effects throughout the neighbourhood:

  • Land prices increase;
  • Rents in hotels (the last cheap housing available before homelessness) increase;
  • Businesses that serve local residents can’t afford taxes;                      
  • New businesses serving new upscale residents move in (some are subsidized by the city);
  • Low income people are excluded from upscale business by security guards and prices;
  • A new power structure favouring people with more money develops;
  • Some new residents lobby to stop new housing and services that low income residents need;
  • Low income people stop feeling comfortable in their own neighbourhood;
  • Homelessness increases.
  • A unique low-income community with many assets could be lost.

CCAP needs you to go to Council on the 21st and support this position:

No new height until we have a social/economic study of the impact of Woodwards and other DTES condo development on the tenure and assets of the low income DTES community and until we have a local area plan for the whole DTES neighbourhood in which low income residents have a say proportionate to their numbers.

In order to speak a Council, you will have to email a quick note to saying that you want to speak as a delegation on the Historic Area Height Review.  Later there may be a phone number you can call for this and CCAP will forward it to you.


What exactly is the planning staff recommending to Council?

At a meeting on Dec. 10th DTES planners told CCAP that staff will probably make the following recommendations at a City Council meeting on Jan. 19th (probably speakers will be heard on the 21st):

  • Three new towers up to 15 stories on three specific sites in the DTES;
  • No height increase in Gastown or Victory Square;
  • About a one story increase on Pender St.;
  • Chinatown South to go from 90 feet to 120 feet (12 stories) with rezonings;
  • DEOD (this is Main St. north of Hastings and about two blocks of Hastings):  increase the height limit from 100 feet to 120 feet with rezoning.

What’s missing from the city’s recommendations?

CCAP is just completing a two year comprehensive vision for the DTES based on consultation with 1200 low income residents.  The height increases proposed will leapfrog over CCAP’s process.  The planning department has known about this process from the beginning.

The Woodwards development and other city measures to “revitalize” the DTES are already having a huge impact on the low income DTES community, but the city has done no social/economic impact study of this.  The city needs to assess the development that’s already happened:  Is it creating more homelessness?  Is it destroying a vibrant community where low-income people feel safe and comfortable?  Where will people displaced by higher rents caused by gentrification go?

Displacement facts: Although the city’s policy is “revitalization without displacement”, three displacement facts are troubling to CCAP:

  • Hotel rents are escalating beyond what people on welfare, disability and seniors can afford.  According to CCAP’s hotel survey, the number of hotel rooms renting for over $425, $50 above what people on welfare and disability have for rent, increased by 44% between 2008 and 2009.  In other words, about half of the privately owned SROs are renting for more than low income people can afford.  Probably as a result of these rent increases, CCAP also found that the number of hotels where two people are staying in one tiny room quadrupled between 2008 and 2009.
  • According to a survey by the police in December, some hotels have large numbers of vacant rooms.  In CCAP’s experience this usually means they are getting ready to sell or to upgrade and rent at increased rents, maybe to students of the new SFU Arts school.  These hotels include the Colonial (90 vacant units), and Argyle (40 vacant units). The Golden Crown Hotel is empty and renovating as is the Burns Block.  With increased rents these hotels will not be available to current low-income DTES residents.
  • City staff continually informs council that its 1 for 1 replacement policy (for every 1 SRO that is closed, a new social housing unit should be built) is being met.  However, the city does not take into account rent increases that make the SROs, the last housing before homelessness, unaffordable to very low income people.  Nor is it examining the impact of owners holding rooms vacant on low income DTES residents.  And it is including provincially owned hotels as new social housing when it is newly social but not new accommodation.

What are the reasons why we should not support increased density in the DTES?

#1.  There is no plan for the DTES.  Allowing increased zoning before there is a plan is backwards process.

#2.  There is no study on the impact of denser zoning on the existing low-income community.

#3.  Upzoning (allowing higher density) will benefit developers but not existing residents.

#4.  One of the city’s justifications for higher density is that it will allow the city to extract “amenities” from developers.  However, CCAP has seen pro-formas (tables that developers use to figure out their costs and prices) that show that for a developer to provide one unit of social housing, he would have to build at least 7 condo units (if the economy is good).  That means that for the DTES to get the 6000 units of social housing that it needs, it would have to have 42,000 condos, and the neighbourhood would be completely overwhelmed by condos.

#5.  Another justification for higher density is that density reduces the ecological footprint.  However, the DTES is already a dense neighbourhood, and probably has the smallest ecological footprint in the city, as thousands of residents don’t have cars, washers, dryers or even stoves.

What are the alternatives to making the DTES denser? CCAP’s two year consultation process with 1200 low income residents will call on the city to stop encouraging condo development in the DTES until the housing and assets of the low-income community are secured.

Watch for the city’s report on the Height Review on January 19, 2010.  Please sign up to speak to support the low income DTES community.  As soon as the details of the meeting are available, CCAP will forward them to you.

If you have any questions, please call Wendy at 604 839-0379 or Jean at 604 729-2380.