Letter to Mayor and Council calling for social housing above the new Hastings library

October 4, 2010

Dear Mayor and Council,

Re: new VPL branch at 720/730 East Hastings Street

CCAP would like Mayor and Council to amend the staff recommendation for a “stand-alone” library at 720/730 East Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside. Instead, we want Mayor and Council to do everything in their power to ensure the city builds 100% social housing above the library, if not now, then with a design to support social housing in the future.

There is a lot of support for social housing above the library. CCAP volunteers spent weeks collecting about 1500 signatures on a petition to build 100% social housing on top of that library.

CCAP presented that petition to the VPL board and showed the petition to Councillor Reimer and to Jill Davidson of the City’s Housing Centre. The Carnegie board and library committee met with the consultant and told them we wanted social housing on top of the library. Wendy Pedersen of CCAP spoke to Councillor Louie on the phone in July 2010 and asked that the city, at the very least, design the building so that it could support social housing on top in the future when funding becomes available. With CCAP’s urging, City Council passed a motion on July 6, 2010 that said the city would “explore the possibility of” social housing on top of the library.

In this new Oct 5, 2010 report to council, city staff fail to give any reasons for rejecting the housing option. On the 1st page of the report it says: “COUNCIL POLICY: There is no Council policy related to this matter.” This is wrong. On page 5 of the DTES Housing Plan it says, “SROs are to be replaced with new self-contained social housing for singles,..” Therefore, CCAP expects the city to do everything in its power to uphold this policy, not ignore it.

The desperate need for social housing is increasing every year. At the present time there is not one unit of affordable housing planned for the DTES for after 2013 even though buildings are needed about 6 years now from announcement to moving in day. Only 12% of the privately owned hotel rooms in the DTES are available at $375 (welfare shelter rate) according to CCAP’s latest hotel rent study. This means seniors on pensions and people on welfare are getting pushed out. The whole spectrum of privately owned hotel rooms is moving out of reach. Last year 2 hotels rented for $500 or more a month and this year 11 hotels with 655 rooms rent for $500 or more. Two reasons for this increasing desperation are the responsibility of this Mayor and Council: the city is not living up to its policy of “revitalization without displacement” in the DTES and the city is not living up to its policy to replace the hotels one for one with a self contained unit of social housing in the boundaries of the neighbourhood. Crumbs for the poor at the bottom of condo towers and upscaling hotels are not enough.

The conclusion of the council report says: “CONCLUSION: It is recommended that the DTES/Strathcona Library Branch proceed as a stand-alone building. This [library] project is a high priority for the library board and is supported by the community.” A new library was not identified as a priority or even mentioned by any of the 1200 people CCAP talked to while doing our vision project. These people are “the community.” They did mention over and over that affordable social housing was a priority.

In terms of funding for social housing, it is short sighted to assume that senior governments will refuse to build social housing forever. The library is an awesome chance to get land for free for social housing. The province has a $250 M Housing Endowment Fund that could be spent on social housing. There is a $2.1 billion dollar unallocated BC government surplus over the next 3 years. Bill C-304 National Affordable Housing Strategy is coming to Parliament soon.

    Should the Mayor and Council decide to not put social housing on top of the library, CCAP will take this as an indication that the city is not serious about buying and designating properties for social housing in the Downtown Eastside.

We’re tired of talking to councillors and having them say they want social housing but then do nothing about it. We are discouraged by Councillor Jang’s recent CBC radio interview where he gave 4 excuses for not buying property for social housing in the DTES:

1. It is too much of a drain on city resources [but Council can find money for bicycle lanes, for city hall renovations, but not for buying land in the DTES? And isn’t land a great capital asset the city can’t lose on?];

2. The city must focus on building a spectrum of affordable housing [but those who can pay $550 – $700 a month at the American Hotel have way more options than those at $375 a month who need government subsidy];

3. Commitments from the senior governments must be made first before the city can buy and designate land for social housing [not true, the city nearly always buys land first, sets it aside and then lobbies senior governments for partnerships]; and,

4. There are not many sites to buy in the DTES [not true, CCAP asked council to buy a very cheap DTES property for sale ($600,000 for 50 foot frontage, next to an empty lot owned by a non-profit for a total of 75 foot frontage with up to $300,000 soil remediation) near Oppenheimer for social housing this summer and staff, with Councillor Louie in the loop, said no. The Pantages Theatre could have been sold to the city (twice?), and council said no. Have other sites been rejected by council in camera that CCAP does not know about?

To make matters worse, we only got 6 units at the American Hotel for low-income DTES residents. And, no subsidized housing will be built at the upcoming 60 W Cordova site. This is a pattern of development that we cannot support for the DTES.

From your actions and from Jang’s interview, it is becoming clear to us that you don’t want new social housing projects in the DTES. We hope that Mayor and Council will take this opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to low-income DTES residents, prove us wrong and do whatever it takes to get social housing on the VPL site.

Carnegie Community Action Project