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Vancouver’s civic right wing, long hidden in the shadow cast by the Vision Vancouver goliath, is emerging cloaked in outrage against one part of a Local Area Plan for the Downtown Eastside (DTES). Not that they have much to complain about. Except for one section, the DTES Local Area Plan continues Vision’s trajectory of performing government interventions in the capitalist market only on behalf of capital. The rightists expect City Hall’s plan to continue Vision’s so far unqualified support for the free market; they feel entitled to this support. Their entitlement has them outraged by the exceptional clause of the plan that offers one lonesome anchor to the low-income community against the real estate speculator market push: the “60/40” social-and-rental-housing-only development plan for the DTES Oppenheimer District (DEOD). If Vision Vancouver votes to support the so-called 60/40 development plan, this will plan the DEOD as the one remaining majority low-income section of the DTES; it will be their first intervention in the real estate market against developer and corporate demands for perpetual, state-unregulated growth and wealth accumulation.

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Since we got first involved in the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) in the spring of 2011, low-income community members and groups have been hanging our hopes for broad-sweeping housing policy change on the outcome of the 2013 BC provincial election. The most important part of our participation in that planning work has been our push to prevent a mass displacement and homelessness crisis in the DTES. Throughout the planning process it has been our view that the main tool for preventing this displacement is zoning regulations that stop condo development in at least one sub-area of the Downtown Eastside while slowing it down significantly in other areas of the DTES, in particular the Hastings Corridor and Thornton Park. With zoning protections in place we dream of next-step plans that involve all levels of government:

  • The city would buy 50 sites dedicated for social housing at welfare/pension rates needed to replace the 5,000 SRO rooms;
  • The province (once the Liberals are gone) would build thousands of social housing governed by the Residential Tenancy Act on those city-owned lots;
  • The province (also post-Liberal rule) would change the Residential Tenancy Act to freeze rents and stop renovictions, and;
  • The federal government (once the Conservatives are gone) would build thousands of more units of social housing.

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BC Rooms hotel, across the street from the proposed condos at 557 E. Cordova, was where MLA Jagrup Brar stayed during his welfare challenge in 2012.

The Vancouver Development Permit Board will hear yet another Downtown Eastside condo project proposal on Monday. The low-income community has already spent much time and energy on futile trips to City Hall to protest their displacement by more and more condo developments in the DTES. All protests have fallen on deaf ears – at both Development Permit Board and City Council public hearings. In lieu of protest in person this time, our frustrated community is sending our opposition by email to see if it will help Development Permit Board members and City Councillors to actually consider the reasons why people oppose the 24-unit condo project at 537 E. Cordova. Perhaps their reading abilities are better than their listening ones… Wishful thinking we know, but if you are interested in joining this opposition, please send a letter to mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca or go to the Development Permit Board hearing, Monday March 25, 3pm at City Hall Town Hall meeting room. While we continue to come up with other strategies for protest, we support all efforts to continue speaking in person. Register to speak by calling 604-873-7469 or lorna.harvey@vancouver.ca.

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Daniel Boffo is a young developer born into a family real estate development company far from poverty and the streets.

That’s why, at last month’s public information meeting about the condo project he wants to build on the block between Oppenheimer and the UGM shelter, I was astonished to hear him compare himself to people on welfare living in nearby SRO hotel rooms.

Herb Varley, a young Nuu-chah-nulth and Nisga’a man who lived in a hotel down the street for two years, told Boffo that hotel residents are there because they have no choice. “No one wants to live in hotels,” he said, “but the other option they have is the street. If you build a condo here, it will push up land and rent prices and you will push those people out on the street.” Daniel Boffo didn’t flinch. He said that people don’t get to choose where they want to live; “I want to live in a mansion on the water and I don’t get to do that.” Then he said that if low-income people want to be comfortable in other places besides the Downtown Eastside they should get out there and stop being prejudiced against higher income people.


DTES Community organizing against Sequel 138 condos shows united opposition to displacement by gentrification.

The date is looming for the City’s Development Permit Board meeting to decide the fate of the Sequel 138 condo proposal. It’s been a year since nine major Downtown Eastside (DTES) community organizations formed a coalition to stop Sequel 138 condos. Their campaign involves thousands of  DTES residents, workers, social housing providers, artists… united in opposition to a bad proposal for a destructive condo project in the heart of the most vulnerable urban community in the country.

In the midst of a gentrification storm in the Downtown Eastside with more than 688 new condo units proposed or planned this year, the Sequel 138 proposal at the Pantages site might seem like a strange project to target. It’s only 79 condos, it doesn’t require a rezoning, and it includes 9 units of welfare rate social housing. But the Sequel project is different because it is the first condo proposal ever made in the DTES Oppenheimer District, where 80% of the residents are low-income and most live in substandard SRO hotel rooms.

Most importantly the Oppenheimer District was highlighted by city planners and lawmakers (back when they actually talked about social housing) as the area expected to host most of the needed social housing for the DTES. To make this goal possible they drew up an “inclusionary zoning” bylaw to keep land prices and rents low and keep the real estate speculators at bay: any new development in the area must include 20% social housing. Now, if the city gives a green light to the Sequel project, speculators and developers will swarm over the cheap land as investment opportunities.


UNCEDED COAST SALISH TERRITORY, VANCOUVER: On Tuesday April 10th more than 100 Downtown Eastside residents gathered for a rally in the theatre of the Carnegie centre to sound an alarm: Displacement, they said, is happening. And worse, if city council does not take immediate and serious action, it will quickly become a desperate crisis.

The rally was motivated by developer Marc Williams’ proposal to build 79 quarter-million-dollar condos on the 100-block of East Hastings Street, between the Regent and Brandiz hotels and across the street from North America’s only legal supervised injection site. The proposal is years in the making and was rejected by two separate city bodies last year but is back and scheduled to go to vote at the city’s Development Permit Board on Monday April 23. That board, made up of developers, business investors and other political appointees, will vote on the project based on its measure within existing building policies. The DTES Not for Developers Coalition has been organizing against the project for about a year, and Tuesday’s rally continued their call for City Hall to reject the project.

Sixteen community groups gathered with the DTES Not for Developers Coalition to speak in one voice from their diverse specific perspectives and demand that the city say no to “Sequel 138″ condos and to buy the site and dedicate it entirely to welfare and old age pension rate social housing.

The rally was opened with statements from people who live in SRO hotels on the 100-block of East Hastings, where the condo project is proposed. Washington Hotel residents are “illicit drinkers, drug users, and we struggle with our mental and physical health. We are the people who are not wanted by developers and condo owners.” Their statement was read by John Skulsh, who said, “We don’t have housing options, we have housing ultimatums: Live in this 10×10 room without the privacy of your own bathroom, and without the health, food, and hygiene choices of having your own kitchen, or go back to the street.”


DTES delegation at the 2011 Vancouver mayoral debate


At the recent Homelessness and Affordable Housing debate (Nov 7, St. Andrew’s–Wesley Church), mayoral candidates Gregor Robertson and Suzanne Anton said a lot of things, but they didn’t debate much. They both admitted that they will not slow down or pause destructive market development in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). They agreed that a municipal tax on real estate speculation and non-resident property ownership would not be appropriate. They also agreed that inclusionary zoning, a soft and widely used development permit mechanism that forces developers to include affordable housing in all market developments, would not be good for Vancouver. They even agreed that the solution to the affordable rental housing and homelessness crisis caused by the real estate market is to be found back in the market itself. Put simply, their differences were of degree, not principle.

The most troubling thing about the mayoral debate was the way that both candidates addressed the low-income affordable housing and homelessness crisis: by passing the blame onto provincial and federal levels of government. Both Gregor Robertson and Suzanne Anton avoided the City’s role in building housing, as well as tools in its jurisdiction that could be used to save low-income housing. These are the top-three things the DNC believes a mayoral candidate would do if they were serious about ending the affordable rental-housing and homelessness crisis in Vancouver: