On Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday this past week over a hundred people spoke at City Hall while city council deliberated over the Downtown Eastside local area plan. For three days residents and supporters agitated against elements of the plan that put forward tenant relocation and widespread displacement. In this series, we’ll feature some of those powerful and moving speeches heard at City Hall. These speeches belong to the community and the authors have kindly allowed us to re-publish their words. If you have a speech that you want to share with us, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org –
DTES Local Area Plan, Public Hearing
Friday, March 14th
Hello, my name is Chanel Ly. As a settler born here in Vancouver, I would like to acknowledge the territories that we are on – the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Musqueam nations. I want to first say that I fully support the low-income caucus and their position. I urge Council to adopt the 60-40 rule and to require 5,000 units of self-contained housing at income assistance rates within 10 years. I also strongly urge you to fund an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre with intergenerational housing as a quick-start action.
I hope to touch on an issue that is getting more light but is still underrepresented. I am second generation Chinese Vietnamese. As I am reconnecting with my culture, I find my way back to Chinatown where my parents had worked and shopped for years. I’ve been able to use whatever broken Cantonese I know to connect with the Chinese seniors who live in the area. While people have unfairly painted a negative picture of the seniors as being greedy, rude, and overall wealthy, they are actually the most generous, connected, and the strongest people I know. They have to be strong in order to survive in these conditions.
The recent fights to protect homes have heightened stress for seniors in the Ming Sun building and Chau Luen Tower. As you may be aware, the 82 low-income seniors of Chau Luen Tower were nearly forced to pay an increase of 30-40% in rent, which would consist of more than half of their monthly income. The primary problem was an increase in rent for building renovations and maintenance, but those costs should not be loaded on to the tenants that can’t pay. Increasing maximum rent levels in the SAFER program is great, but there are challenges that come along with it and it’s only a band-aid solution to a larger problem. SAFER doesn’t address issues that come with gentrification – such as rising food prices and retail gentrification. The program eligibility also depends on the immigration status of applicants, excluding some of the most vulnerable. We need to keep a low-income neighbourhood, not adjust to a more expensive one.
Anita Lau, the Chinese Senior Outreach Worker at the DTES Women’s Centre, interviewed seniors for the homeless count a few days ago. Rent increases are a major concern and these threats put them on the verge of homelessness. Shelters are in no way suitable for the elderly. Old Age Security does not allow access to dental and medical benefits for folks on welfare. They already struggle to afford the food and medication they need, let alone pay more rent. Another major struggle: the language barriers and racial discrimination they experience in their homes and on the streets is a reflection of ongoing systemic racism and the lack of action the city and senior governments have taken to reverse these patterns. In 2007, the UBC School of Social Work reported that there are about 1,739 Chinese seniors living in non-market housing. There are five Chinese-speaking workers serving 1,700 seniors. Two of which whose job duties are not to do seniors outreach but simply because the area is so understaffed.
There are very few parts in the plan that will directly benefit Chinese seniors. Not only do homes need to be culturally designed, but they need to be paired with the necessary support workers and services for the seniors’ well-being and livelihoods. Culture is mentioned overwhelmingly in the plan, but only a few of those uses address the housing, health, and mental health needs of the Chinese seniors that are unique from the rest of the DTES residents.
Jackie Wong from Megaphone cites the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which says that “chinatowns have persisted as havens for low-income immigrants and workers, not only because of the continued need for affordable and culturally appropriate services and goods, but also because of the many people fighting to maintain their existence.” This is what Chinatown is about and that’s why seniors choose to live there. Councillors, please do not let developers orientalize and capitalize on the Chinese struggle that is at the root of this ethnic enclave.
A study done by UBC Sauder School of Business predicts that in the next 15 years, 3,300 seniors whose primary language is Chinese will need affordable assisted housing support that is linguistically and culturally suitable. I strongly urge you to consider how this plan will affect these people who have lived here and given back for generations. I urge you to: 1) define social housing according to CCAP’s recommendations; 2) improve, increase, and implement social housing that is culturally and linguistically appropriate 3) advocate for a change in the RTA to protect tenant rights and prevent rent hikes; and 4) integrate ethno-racial considerations in the plan and future planning practices that will hire more community workers which can provide translation and interpretation support and encourage the development of more services for Chinese seniors. Thank you Council.