DTES housing activists rally outside the Re:Address summit for social housing not market solutions and “expert” conferences

On Thursday, October 27th, the City of Vancouver hosted a housing affordability summit with experts and so-called “thought leaders” from across the world. With an entrance fee set at $370, which Victoria Bull, from the Raise the Rates Coalition explained is the same as the shelter component of welfare, the summit excludes and marginalizes the voices of low-income residents who are experiencing the brunt of the housing crisis and who are at the front lines of the struggle for housing justice. And at the same time that elites are gathered to talk about housing solutions, the City of Vancouver is displacing homeless people from the tent city at 58 W Hastings and smashing their community.

Downtown Eastside Our Homes Can’t Wait, the same group that was part of pressuring Mayor Robertson to agree to 100% welfare/pension rate social housing at 58 W. Hastings, held a press conference outside the summit. Lama Mugabo with the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) explained, “Our group is called “Our Homes Can’t Wait” because action is needed now; the time for talking and waiting is over. In Vancouver there are more than twice as many homeless people as there are vacant market rental units for the city’s entire population, and most of those units are not affordable to low-income people.”

“The City is making a big fuss about 58 W Hastings, but one site is not enough,” Karen Ward with VANDU elaborates. “Over a thousand people are homeless in the DTES, ten thousand people are homeless in the province, and over a hundred thousand are at immediate risk of homelessness. We need 10,000 units of social housing to be built every year in BC.”

“I remember when we didn’t have a homeless crisis because we had social housing and people on welfare could afford SROs. There are two things you have to understand about homelessness: one, a homeless person today has half the life expectancy as an average British Columbian. And two, it’s cheaper to house a homeless person than to manage their homelessness,” Jean Swanson with CCAP explains. “What unites us as Our Homes Can’t Wait is a shared belief that the market-driven solutions used in the past (whether tax cuts or financial incentives for market development) have not worked. We need to tax the rich, and house the poor! And we need redistribution not innovation!”

Letizia Waddington also read the Alliance against Displacement statement on why the group disrupted the summit earlier this morning. “We demand every level of government make ending homelessness and evictions the highest priority of your housing policies,” Waddington explained. “Our experience with people being evicted from ‘low-end of market’ apartments in Burnaby shows that thousands are being pushed out of their homes by market forces. But even the homes they have aren’t enough. Sixty percent of them pay more than 30% of their incomes to rent, and many keep their rents affordable by packing more renters into small apartments. The market hasn’t been working for them for years, and it is just worse by evictions. The market works for developers and banks, not for our people. Raise taxes on the rich and corporations to whatever level necessary in order to build 77,000 units of social housing every year across Canada.”

Mrs. Kong from the Chinatown Concern Group has lived in Chinatown for 20 years. “Now there’s lots of coffee shops,” she said. “It’s more like coffee town than Chinatown and we can’t afford their coffee. There’s nothing left in Chinatown for low-income Chinese seniors. We need housing that seniors on pensions can afford, not condos and coffee shops.”

Our Homes Can’t Wait is a broad coalition of groups, who together represent over a hundred thousand low-income residents. We have come together around three central demands: 1) Build social housing on ten government-owned sites in the Downtown Eastside 2) Immediate rent control, with rent regulations tied to the unit rather than the tenant 3) Save and improve SROs in the Downtown Eastside (until they are replaced by social housing).