By Jean Swanson
The Housing chapter of the draft city Local Area Plan is now available to look at. But it’s not good if you are a homeless Downtown Eastside (DTES) resident, a low income hotel resident, or a social housing resident who feels comfortable and accepted in the neighbourhood now.
The good part about the plan is that it proposes to rezone the Oppenheimer area so that new developments that aren’t commercial or industrial have to be 60% social housing and 40% market rental. This will keep condos out and put a small brake on land prices and hotel room rents. Keeping land prices low will make it easier to build social housing in the future.
If Council passes this social housing requirement, which it doesn’t have to, it will be because low income people on the LAP committee worked tirelessly to point out that the DTES community need social housing and that gentrification is not good for low income residents.
The rest is pretty gloomy. First of all, the city has a new definition of social housing. It’s hard to understand that so much could depend on one little definition. Outside of the DTES the definition is that half the housing only has to be under about $850 a month for a bachelor unit. Then the rest can be at market rents of over $1400 for a bachelor. Not one unit has to be affordable for someone on welfare. But, because low income LAP members fought for a special definition, the city has proposed for the DTES only: one-third at welfare shelter allowance; one-third between that and about $850 a month; one-third at market. This is way less social housing than low income LAP members wanted but is more than the rest of the city.
The draft plan says 4400 new units of self contained social housing should be built in the next 30 years. BUT, people on welfare, disability and basic old age pension will only be able to afford 1452, or one-third of them with this definition. So what will happen to the 730 homeless people and 4500 or so hotel residents who need self contained social housing at welfare rate?
The social housing definition is a problem in the Oppenheimer district too. With only one third of 60% of the new units having to be affordable to people at welfare rate, only 20% of the new housing in this area will be affordable to people who are homeless or living in SROs. This subarea of the DTES is supposed to be where the city puts most of the new social housing—but, with this plan, low income residents will only be able to afford one-fifth of it.
While the low income community wants the city to designate 50 lots over 10 years for social housing, the city plan proposes to designate 3 lots over 30 years.
The city says they want 3350 social housing units outside the DTES for DTES residents. But with the city’s definition of social housing none of them have to be at welfare rate, so how will hotel residents and homeless people be able to afford these units?
There’s more. The draft plan says the city wants to give incentives to upgrade SRO hotel rooms to have washrooms and kitchens. The problem is, they don’t account for the fact that to do this, owners will have to combine 2 rooms to make one unit, thereby reducing the number of hotel rooms by half. The city says they will use “housing agreements” to keep rents affordable. But when they did this at the American Hotel, of 42 rooms, 6 were kept at $400 for 10 years (only) and the rest are renting at $500-600 a month. With this plan it looks like lots of hotel residents could be pushed out with nowhere else to go.
Over the next 30 years, the draft plan also calls for almost 15,000 new housing units (condos, market rental, and expensive social housing) that people on welfare, disability and basic pension won’t be able to afford. This will completely transform the DTES into a neighbourhood where the majority are not low income and the accepting, non judgmental nature of the community will be lost. The city does talk about giving businesses incentives to not destroy the good things about the low income community, but there are no teeth in this process and no low income people are structured into the process.
What can we do about this? We need to tell the city that we want 5000 units of social housing that low income people can afford in the DTES. They need to make a plan to do this within 10 years, not 30. People shouldn’t have to die before they can get into a new unit.
CCAP and the low income caucus have a petition circulating in the community and in our office on the 2nd floor of Carnegie. Be sure to keep your eyes open for it and sign it.
Also, mark March 12 on your calendar. That’s the day city council is supposed to vote on the plan. We need to get lots of DTES residents up at city hall saying that we need more self contained social housing that people on welfare can afford. Contact CCAP at 604 729 2380 or come to our office.
If you would like to read the housing chapter of the draft local area plan, there’s a reference copy on the CCAP bulletin board across from our office or go to http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/downtown-eastside-draft-local-area-plan.pdf The housing chapter starts on page 83.
Only one more Local Area Planning meeting has been scheduled as we go to press. This meeting will be held on January 17th from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm at an unknown location. No agenda has been set.