Hello City Council members,
It would be great if you could read this before dealing with the Historic Area Height Review on Jan. 19th. CCAP really appreciates some of the things this council has done to get affordable housing and shelters:
• The motion at the 2009 UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) to get a national housing strategy;
• Removing the 10% daily/weekly option from the SRA bylaw (Single Room Accommodation Bylaw) which helps preserve DTES hotels as monthly rentals;
• Better enforcement of maintenance standards;
• Councillor Kerry Jang’s interview on CBC radio last week about the need for even more shelters;
• Mayor Gregor Robertson having the goal of ending homelessness by 2015;
• The HEAT shelters;
And we understand that the province and feds have to build more housing and that the city doesn’t have the tax base to take on this entire responsibility.
However, we are afraid that there is a big hole in what you are trying to do to end homelessness. That hole is the impact of Woodward’s and gentrification on the low- income community in the DTES.
We are hoping you will consider these facts before making a decision to increase density in the Historic Area (western part of the Downtown Eastside):
The SROs are the last housing before homelessness.
Displacement Fact #1: Rents are increasing.
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.
Displacement Fact #2: Hotels near Woodward’s have the highest rents.
According to data from CCAP’s 2009 hotel survey, 10 hotels with about 450 rooms, East of Main, are renting rooms at over $425 a month. But 15 hotels with about 1130 rooms, West of Main, are renting rooms at over $425. This statistic shows that, in general, the hotels closer to Woodward’s have the highest rents. The majority of residents in the Downtown Eastside are on income assistance and can only afford $375 a month for rent, meaning, many may choose to be homeless rather than pay the extra $50+ a month for rent.
Displacement Fact #3: More empty rooms.
According to a survey by the Jodyne Keller, Homeless Outreach worker for the VPD in December 2009, some hotels have large numbers of vacant rooms, which are not for rent. 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 Hotel (90 vacant units), and Argyle Hotel (40 vacant units). The Golden Crown Hotel (28 units) is empty and renovating as is the Burns Block (28 units). Other hotels may be doing this also. With increased rents these hotels will not be available to current low-income DTES residents. These hotels are all located near Woodward’s.
Displacement Fact #4: The City counting method doesn’t give a clear picture.
City staff continually inform council that its 1 for 1 replacement policy (for every 1 SRO that is lost, 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 unaffordable to very low-income people. Nor is it examining the impact on low-income DTES residents of owners holding rooms vacant. And the city includes provincially owned hotels as new social housing when they are newly social but not new accommodation.
For these reasons CCAP believes it is crucial that the city take a step back from its “revitalization” policies to gage whether or not the “without displacement” part is actually happening too. If low income people are being displaced, as CCAP believes they are, then homelessness will keep increasing.
This is why CCAP wants a social-economic study of the impact of Woodward’s and new condos in the DTES BEFORE more density is allowed. The study should look at what has been the impact of Woodward’s and condos on the assets and tenure of the low income community and on homelessness.
Another consideration about the Height Review: Planning staff have told CCAP that they want extra height so they can get amenities from developers. The “amenity” that low income DTES residents want the most, according to our research, is housing. But we have seen pro formas from the Building Communities Society that show very few social housing units will be built by condo developers as amenities. For every 7-10 condos we might get one social housing unit in good economic times. This means that to get the 6000 units of social housing that the DTES needs, we’d have to have 42,000 condos, which would totally wipe out all the assets of the low income community that we uncovered in our mapping with over 200 residents. Our other fears are that the community would be split arguing over whether heritage, housing, childcare, etc were the most appropriate amenities, or if the amenities were designed for the benefit of the new richer residents and not for more vulnerable low income residents.
What CCAP wants: the city should not consider “outright” or even “conditional” height increases, or any additional supportive regulatory framework to facilitate increased development within the DTES Heritage Areas under review. These proposed policies will lead to demolition of heritage buildings and further displacement of low-income residents. Instead, we recommend the following:
1. A social-economic study of the impact of Woodward’s and other condos on the tenure and assets of the Aboriginal and low-income communities and on homelessness.
2. A vision for the whole DTES neighbourhood (which includes all 7 sub-areas of the DTES as defined by the city).
3. A short term local area planning process in which Aboriginal and low-income residents have a say proportionate to their numbers and with a goal of designing a plan to ensure Vancouver’s low-income and heritage districts are secured.
Something else to consider:
CCAP could consider the staff’s proposal for a “moderate” height increase in the historic district “if” we can get these things in place first:
A social-economic study of the impact of Woodward’s and other condos on the tenure and assets of the Aboriginal and low-income communities and on homelessness.
A National Housing program,
A 50% raise in welfare,
A vision for the DTES that secures the tenure and assets of the low-income and Aboriginal community and historic district, and
A plan for how to achieve the vision, with
Aboriginal and low-income reps on the vision and planning committee represented in proportion to their population (about 70%).
Council could consider “holding back” approval for 12 months conditional upon a serious effort made by reps from Chinatown, business and developers work with the Aboriginal and low-income community on this. The national housing strategy could help the DTES community build housing for Chinese families, Aboriginal families, working families, seniors, low-income singles as well as supportive housing and indirectly preserve the historic district as well. New zoning is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Council could use the energy that is pushing for zoning change to help the Mayor achieve his goal of building affordable housing and ending homelessness in Vancouver.