Do we want a Social Justice Zone in the Downtown Eastside?

social justice zone heart

All over the world, low income areas are being gentrified and low income and vulnerable people pushed out of their neighbourhoods.  Could Vancouver be different?  If so, what could happen here that would respect the basic human rights of low income people to chose where they want to live and to have basic needs met?   Could we get the city, other levels of government, business and agencies to adopt a special Social Justice Zone in the DTES?  If we did, would exactly would that mean?

Working definition of a Social Justice Zone:

  • A place where low income and vulnerable people have a right to be and won’t be pushed out;
  • A place where low income residents are recognized as the experts in matters that affect them and have control over decisions, services and operations that affect them;
  • A place where low income people and their basic human and social needs have priority over profit;
  • A place where residents work for social justice. 

How could a Social Justice Zone be implemented? 

Various levels of government, agencies, business and residents could all have a role.

For example, the city includes the Park Board, School Board, Police and Engineering Departments.  It has power to pass bylaws, zone, and licence business and services.  It can fund agencies and services.  What can we think of that each of these levels of the city could do to help make a Social Justice Zone?

The Provincial Government controls transit, BC Housing, Health funding, MSP, Native Housing, Police, Welfare and Rent controls.  What could these branches of government do to help make a Social Justice Zone?

Business controls Business Improvement Associations as well as their own business decisions.  This includes developers. What could they do to help make a Social Justice Zone.

Agencies could respond to the needs of the community as expressed by the community and the people who use them.  These agencies include unions, housing providers, social enterprises, Arts groups, health providers, charities, peer groups, Union of BC Indian Chiefs. What kinds of things could they do?

Funders could fund projects and groups that the low income community prioritizes.  These funders include credit unions, foundations, governments, universities.  Who should they fund and for what?

The federal government could fund more social housing.  It also controls immigration policy and has the ability to end the war on drugs and set up a system where drugs are legal and regulated. How can we organize to get federal money for our desperately needed housing?  What can we do about unfair immigration and drug policies?

Where could we have a Social Justice Zone? The Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District and the Hastings Corridor parts of the DTES are perfect.  The City says these two areas are where a lot of the SROs will have to be replaced with self contained social housing.  Neither area is flooded with condos yet.  Other parts of the DTES have recently adopted official plans which the city is unlikely to change.  But the DEOD’s plan was adopted in 1982 and is ready for an update.  The DEOD is the heart of the low income DTES.  It has about 2000 SRO rooms and many services for low income people.  Its residents have the lowest average income in the city,  It is an area where low income people feel comfortable and at home and don’t face the discrimination they feel in other gentrified parts of the DTES like around Woodwards and in Gastown.

What is the first thing we would need to make the DEOD and Hastings Corridors into a Social Justice Zone?  The first thing we’d need is for the city to rezone the Hastings Corridor for 70% and DEOD for 100% social housing.  This would stop condos from gentrifying the area and give time for us to get the province and federal governments to fund some more social housing for people who are homeless and live in SROs.  Other parts of the DTES could be rezoned for lower percentages of social housing, as in this diagram of the circles of caring, done by Karen Ward.