How the LAPP Committee failed the test of the condo rezoning proposal at 955 E Hastings
Low-income members of the DTES Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) committee met with city staff about the rezoning proposal for condos at 955 E Hastings Street three separate times; an information meeting with lead planners, a discussion and letter drafting meeting in committee, a follow-up meeting redrafting the statement, and a discussion in a full LAPP Committee meeting. Does that sound like a lot of meetings? Well, welcome to the LAPP.
It is important to meet with staff and make sure that our voices are heard, our groups and members justify, because the LAPP Committee has special power to make recommendations on condo proposals. It was part of the agreement we made with council.
And we need City Hall to take the LAPP Committee seriously because our low-income community is investing massive amounts of time, energy and precious volunteer resources into the LAPP Committee. Instead of using our time and energy to organize townhall forums, protests and delegations to city hall with Downtown Eastside residents, we are relying on a city-process to amplify the voices of a community that has never felt heard or understood by City Hall. That requires a pretty serious leap of faith and also some evidence that our faith is not misplaced.
So did the LAPP help low-income residents speak and be heard in the planning of the DTES?
At the first meeting LAPP Committee members had with city staff about the 955 E Hastings rezoning proposal CCAP explained that there are 154 units of privately owned low-income housing in hotels within two blocks of the rezoning site. The lesson of Woodward’s, we said, is that those housing units are all threatened by gentrification. We asked: what is the city going to do to save low-income housing and services in the surrounding area from gentrification?
LAPP Committee member Victoria Bull asked staff, “What are you going to do to stop the working girls from be kicked off the street by the tracks? The condo owners are not going to like the sex work stroll there.”
Planners told her that they did not know about these women working on the street beside the proposed project at 955 E Hastings.
Tracey Morrison, who sits on the LAPP for WAHRS, told the planners, “I volunteer doing peer support for WISH. We do patrols to support those women. It’s also a long time trans sex worker stroll. They have a community there. They have been there for decades now and it’s safer than in other places and no one bothers them.”
The planners said they would arrange a meeting with PACE and WISH and would speak with women who work on the street at Raymur. They seemed legitimately concerned and we felt that we had done our job.
However, by the time staff made their report to city council they had not met with any sex workers or their organizations. And there was not one word in their report – neither oral nor written – relaying our concerns about gentrification, loss of hotel rooms, or the displacement of sex workers. When our community members spoke to council we did so in exactly the same situation we would have if we never spoke a single word with city staff; except we spent our time and energy working with staff instead of organizing with our community.
These problems are provoking many LAPP members to ask, should we leave the LAPP? After the 955 E Hastings rezoning hearing one thing is clear: our community’s voices and needs would have been louder, stronger and better heard if we had never heard of a local area plan.