DEMANDS FOR MORE HOUSING, CONTROLS ON RETAIL GENTRIFICATION AND ABORIGINAL HEALING AND WELLNESS CENTRE DOMINATE FIRST DAY OF COUNCIL MEETING
Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories, March 13, 2014 – The voices of low-income DTES community members and their supporters dominated the first day of Council hearings on the neighbourhood’s plan, and residents are preparing another show of force for day two.
Vancouver City Council will begin hearing the remaining 70 speakers for the DTES Local Area Plan at 4 pm on Friday, March 14, beginning with planning process co-chair Building Community Society. Speakers will include representatives from the Carnegie Community Action Project, the LAPP Low-Income Caucus and the Japanese Language School.
On Wednesday, many speakers focused on the zoning proposal in the Oppenheimer district that would require 60% of new housing to be social housing and 40% to be rentals. The proposal to block condominiums in the 21-block area would keep property values lower and make building social housing more feasible.
“Critics spoke against this idea, citing among other ‘facts’ that it hasn’t been done before. That argument would prevent any new ideas anywhere”, said Karen Ward of Gallery Gachet. “The 60/40 would leave the doors open – that is, the doors to the thousands of homes that are needed. And these homes must be available at the current and appallingly low shelter rate of $375. If social housing is not available to people on social assistance, it isn’t social housing.”
LAPP Committee member Tami Starlight emphasized that the definition of social housing in the plan makes 2/3 of all units inaccessible to the neighbourhood’s poorest residents. “If social housing is redefined as mostly excluding low-income people, it will shut us out of the housing we need,” said Starlight.
The idea of creating an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre ignited the enthusiasm of dozens of speakers, who urged the City to take action in this “Year of Reconciliation.”
“I lost my daughter six months ago”, said LAPP Committee Member Victoria Rose Bull in a heartfelt speech to Mayor and Council. “She could not find help at hospital. If there was an Aboriginal Wellness Centre, she could have.”
Speakers also drew attention to the loss of community that gentrification has caused in the DTES. “The DTES is being upscaled & the places that used to be places of connection and belonging are being lost,” Harold Lavender of the Social Housing Alliance told the Mayor and Council. “This is a plan for dispersal, but there is no plan for people to be displaced into homes they can afford.”
“We’ve been displaced from everywhere else, we’ve been excluded from everywhere else, and this is the first and last place we can find home—and some of us emerge within the space, and some of us take longer”, Karen Ward told Council. “There’s ongoing public pain, and if people find that hard to bear, they should.”
Ward was among the speakers who urged Council to use the plan to advocate for senior government investment in social housing and higher social assistance rates. “We look to the Mayor and Council to make a strong statement about how inadequate and detrimental to human dignity the current provincial social assistance rates are when they adopt the LAP plan on Saturday”, she said.