Speeches that you DIDN’T hear at city hall

Just in case you wanted to know what we were going to say if we had the chance at the city’s Jan 20, 2011 Historic Area Height Review meeting, here are speeches prepared by Wendy Pedersen and Jean Swanson for CCAP:

By Wendy Pedersen: Ok everyone, this is a pivotal moment for the DTES. The decision tonight could very well put a nail in the coffin of the low-income community.

As a friend from Chinatown told Jean and I recently, this fight is reminiscent of the 1970’s fight that he was in over the freeway. …..This is our free way fight. He said that battle wasn’t won in 7 days, but 7 years.

Well, for us, the first hint of this new battle to towers from wiping out the low income community began in 2007.

In 2007, Suzanne Anton during the NPA dominated council, told me confidentially that there was talk of potentially 20 towers the size of WW in the DTES. She said to get busy positioning for social housing benefits and that heritage was way ahead of us. And in a way, I appreciated that, because if we were fighting to keep a few members of the community housed, this could have been the way to go. But we weren’t. We aren’t giving up on anyone. We want everyone. We want to save the whole community.

Later in 2007, the NPA delivered their Eco-density platform which was the ideological foundation or sales pitch framework that was designed to prepare the public for rezoning neighbourhoods including ours.

Then, in spring 2008, the city did a review of where towers could be placed in the DTES – physically. The results showed that we could fit in 16 – 30-40 story towers west of Main.

And that is when our rubber hit the road and this fight really began for us. We spent a year and ½ organizing against it.

In January 2010, in front of a huge delegation who mostly called for no rezoning at all, this council concluded that 15 stories was OK to foist in various spots in the DTES.

We ask that same council, those of you who sit before us today, to revisit that conclusion now.

We ask you to revisit your conclusions and vote against any new density increases in the area based on these 3 points:
1. The city does not have a plan in place to secure the tenure and assets of the low-income community
2. The city cannot prove to us that crumbs from these developments (or CBA’s) will amount to anything comparable to potential losses of low-income stores and housing due to collateral damage of land value increases, speculation and rent increases.
3. You already know about ccap’s rent study. Rent increases in the hotels are out of control. Where is your 2009 Low income housing report data? Where is your update on the homeless action plan? On the DTES Housing Plan that calls for rate of change mechanisms 17 times if market development outpaces social housing. Where are your rate of change mechanisms? Why aren’t you protecting low-income people from displacement and honouring their place in the centre of this community.

In conclusion, this dire situation requires courageous but actually conservative action on your part. Don’t vote for more height and density for condos. You won the election on our homelessness campaign and so far you’ve provided shelters. You need to pay attention to the indirect displacement of low-income people as a result of your development policies or this will be a huge election issue. Slow the land values. Downzone the DTES. Do everything in your power to depress the value of land. It has taken me 4 years of double time work to realize that ZONING is so crucial. It is so nebulous and so hard to explain yet it is sooooo fundamentally important. One little change can change the future of a community, the future of a neighbourhood forever — FOREVER.

My last quick point – when we surveyed 655 low-income DTES residents, one of the questions was: If you lose your DTES housing, where will you end up. They said: the street, alleys, Stanley park, the PNE park, 6 feet under, dead.

So this is a pivotal moment. Protect DTES residents from homelessness, from rent increases and displacement, from the lifesaving networks of support and their community, vote against new density tonight and show us that commitment.


Jean’s speech:

Just have a few points to make

#1. “The staff report says the recommendations are consistent with the DTES Housing Plan which calls for “revitalization w/o displacement”. Yes the recommendation today will encourage revitalization part, but where is the “without displacement” part of the DTES Housing Plan in this recommendation? Where is the part with the rate of change mechanisms that control market development when condos outpace social housing, which they are doing now? Where is the part about needing to put the brakes on condo development to slow down the escalating rents that push people out of their hotel rooms or make them pay so much they have to eat free food or starve? Why is it ok to concentrate on the market housing part of the DTES housing plan and not on the part that would prevent displacement of low income residents? Why is it ok to have more height and density which helps developers who can pretty much look out for themselves and ignore the impact of this height on the low income community which has no alternatives and no cheaper place to move to?

#2. CCAP spent 2 years consulting with 1200 DTES low income residents and we identified our community assets: the volunteering, the sense of acceptance, the pride in fighting for human rights and social justice, the appreciation of the social housing we have and the fact that necessities are close and cheap or free and that that’s crucial when you have little or no money. Everyone we’ve talked to at the city, staff and councilors, say its important to build on community assets and that’s the best practice. Where in this staff report are we building on the DTES community assets? Where are these assets even acknowledged? Allowing more density is creating the ripple effects that will obliterate the low income community assets. Our report and our vision calling for more low income housing and stopping gentrification have been endorsed by 35 groups. Where’s the respect for all that work and all these groups in this recommendation?

#3. “Social Mix” may be ok in places where there is no existing low income neighbourhood, but it’s not helping DTES residents. Not one person we talked to in our consultations over 2 years said they wanted more richer people in the neighbourhood. No one asked for restaurants that sell soup for $9.50 a bowl or for more bridal stores. The old researchers who wanted social mix didn’t think of asking residents in low income communities about the good things there, the friends, social supports, cheaper prices, the life saving services, the closeness of necessities, the sense of belonging and the informal economy. The old “Social Mix” research is being discredited by a new batch of urban geographers. Loretta Lees says, “over the longer term poor people suffer more from the loss of benefits of living in a poor neighbourhood than they gain from living in a more affluent one.” Paul Cheshire shows that even kids in school didn’t do better over the long term when moved to richer neighbourhoods. Martine August says that higher income people gentrifiying a neighbourhood don’t often use their influence to get jobs and education for the poor, as the old theories presumed. Instead they often lobby to push out low income people and services. I have stacks of studies here that document this point.

#4. This is 2011. We need 6-7 years from social housing announcement to moving in day. Yes, we have a few hundred units of low income housing opening up this year and next year. But there is not one unit scheduled for 2013 or later, none. And the city didn’t buy any property in the dtes last year for social housing. Our lobbying of senior govts is useless if the city doesn’t have land. If the city didn’t have the 14 sites, we wouldn’t have one of those units that are now being built. Why do you seem to have money for parties, trees, bicycle lanes—all things that aren’t related to life and death, yet you’re not buying land for social housing in the DTES? Maybe we could handle some more condos in the dtes if the low income housing was decent and secure.

#5. Developers won’t die if they don’t get higher density. Displaced low income people can become homeless and get sick and even die. The low income community needs your protection, developers don’t. Density isn’t inevitable. There is lots of space within existing zoning for thousands more residents.

Vote no to the recommendation and buy 10 sites for social housing in the DTES before the city election in Nov.