DTES Local Area Plan is a dismal failure and council doesn’t want to hear about it

On Tuesday, April 11, Vancouver City Council heard from staff about this year’s homeless count as well as a 3-year progress report on the DTES Local Area Plan. But those who live in the neighbourhood or were involved in trying to create the plan were not heard. The Downtown Eastside LAP Committee, including the low-income caucus, which worked for over two years on a DTES plan, were not notified of the meeting.

The update also ignores the Terms of Reference of the LAP, namely that the purpose of the LAP was to “ensure that the future of the DTES improves the lives of those who currently live in the area, particularly low-income people and those who are most vulnerable.”

The 3-year update uses misleading statistics to paint a picture of the DTES that downplays the failure of the plan and escalating homelessness crisis. For example:

  • The social housing “targets” used in the update report are completely irrelevant to the DTES crisis because only a fraction of new social housing is affordable to low-income people who are homeless or on social assistance. Last year the City of Vancouver said that 1,683 units of new social housing are in development or have been built since 2012. Yet based on research by CCAP, under 6% of the new social housing is guaranteed for people on welfare.
  • The report doesn’t include information about the rate of change, a crucial indicator of gentrification. The rate of change also reveals if low-income people will be able to stay in the neighbourhood. In 2016, the rate of change of new unaffordable (condos, market rental and social housing with rents above welfare shelter rate) housing units to units at welfare/pension rate in 2016 was a whopping 46:1, with 510 expensive units being built and only 11 welfare rate units.
  • The City report uses the number of SRO upgrades as housing target indicator. Yet by-laws require that only one-third of upgraded SROs rent at welfare/pension rate. This means 2/3 of upgraded SRO units are useless to low-income DTES residents because they are too expensive;
  • The City uses the percentage of income assistance cases (a case is an individual or a family unit) as a social wellness indicator, but the statistics are misleading. The percentage of people on income assistance has gone down because richer people are moving into the area but the absolute number of social assistance cases has actually increased in the DTES (8871 in Nov. 2016 vs. 8536 in Jan 2015), not decreased as the City’s stats seem to show.
  • The report implies that binning and street vending will somehow help lift people out of poverty when people on welfare would have to make about $16,000 a year on top of welfare (which would be illegal) to escape poverty. It is also implied that the City is helping binners and vendors, when, in fact, city workers and police harass and take stuff from vendors who don’t move when workers tell them to;
  • The report acknowledges that life expectancy is decreasing, but because the boundaries of the VCH DTES local health area go to Broadway and Nanaimo east of Clark, the statistics don’t reflect the actual life expectancy in the neighbourhood. Life expectancy in the DTES, because homelessness causes shortened lives and because of the opioid crisis, is significantly lower.
  • The report suggests that 3 housing proposals at 177 W Pender, 58 W. Hastings and 124 Dunlevy will “address the urgent need for social housing” by providing more than 500 units. But in reality, only a fraction of the new units will be for people on welfare. 124 Dunlevy is a replacement project so none of the units will be additional. Instead of 500 units to help address homelessness, these 3 projects might provide about 150 units for people on social assistance. This is enough to house only 15% of the homeless people in the DTES, without taking into account the need for SRO residents to get new decent housing too.

What could Council do to really improve lives for low-income and vulnerable people as the original LAP proposed?

  • Make ending homelessness the priority of city housing policy
  • Stop expensive market rentals and condos until low-income people are housed in good social housing
  • Stop using City reports to disguise the severity of the low-income housing situation.
  • Demand federal and provincial governments put money into social housing for low-income people
  • Raise welfare rates to $1500 a month;
  • Put more city money into making social housing affordable for low-income people;
  • Change the definition of social housing so it doesn’t exclude people on welfare and other forms of social assistance;
  • Build an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre