Downtown Eastside residents develop Our Homes Can’t Wait campaign

“What belongs to the people is homes, not tents,” said Stella August at the Carnegie Community Action Project’s (CCAP) second Town Hall meeting on the housing crisis and what to do about it. “It’s really important to fight and to continue to fight. We really need justice here,” added August.

Downtown Eastside residents are working on a campaign to get more social housing at welfare rate, keep and improve SRO hotels, and get real rent control. The actions are coming out of two meetings, a packed town hall meeting in the Carnegie Theatre on Jan. 9 and another strategy meeting on Jan. 23. As a result of the meetings the group is working on a strategy to get the city to put 100% welfare rate housing on 10 sites, 6 of which it already owns and 4 that it can buy.

The group decided to focus first on the site at 58 W. Hastings that is owned by the city. According to City plans, only 15% of the housing for that site will be for people who can only afford the welfare shelter rent of $375 a month. The rest of the units will be for higher income people. The city’s theory of mixing incomes in housing is based on the “social mix” theory described by Karen Ward at the Jan. 23 meeting like this: Social mix is supposed to be “a magical process where poor people start to think that they are middle class and dress better and buy these little dogs….” Instead, said Ward, they get “chased around by security guards” when they try to “buy a beer for $8, a haircut for $80 or shoes for $800.”

At the meeting on Jan. 23 the group talked about developing a community vision for 58 W. Hastings that would include a housing mix that could be one third Chinese seniors, one third Indigenous and one third other DTES residents who are homeless or live in SROs. All rents would be at the welfare shelter rate or 30% of income and no one would be turned away because their income was too low. The residents themselves could run the housing. The ground floor would be for community uses, maybe an art space for real low-income artists. The building would also have cultural spaces for the Chinese and Indigenous people who live there.