Three more shelters are supposed to close this week. The closures seem inevitable, but they are not.

Today, people living at the three remaining shelters are organized and are planning to fight back. We can remember clearly the same situation last year: when Central Shelter residents responded to the closure of their shelter by announcing a tent city, the government was forced to change plans. Central is still open to this day, even though it was a so-called “seasonal” shelter. More recently, the scheduled closure of New Fountain shelter this month was put on hold after protests at City Hall and throughout Vancouver.

People want to stay at the remaining shelters, but they will need enough support because when they walk out of the shelters looking for a place to set up tents and structures on sidewalks and alleys, they will now be automatically responsible for a $1000 fine: last week Mayor Gregor Roberston and Vision passed a law that bans tent cities in Vancouver. This is why today, when seniors, shelter residents, supporters and media gathered for a press conference about the tent city outside the Cardero Shelter, dozens of police arrived to intimidate, monitor and film from across the boulevard. When the police cameras are pointing, and when cops arrive to instill fear and make shelter residents disperse under the pressure of surveillance and authority, supporters need to be there arm in arm. When the police say to the media, “trust us, they are criminals,” we have to say in return: “trust us, they are criminals.”

Despite unanimous opposition, the Vision-led City Council voted last night in favour of limiting public expression in Vancouver. Today the BCCLA has stated that it will participate in a constitutional challenge of the bylaw, either as an intervenor or by representing a plaintiff. “We’re putting on running shoes because now there is a big race to the courts on this ludicrous measure,” said BCCLA Policy Director Micheal Vonn in an interview with The Mainlander.

An original bylaw had been proposed by City Staff two weeks ago. The version set out to implement a rigid permit system for those using any “structure, object, substance or thing” to express themselves in public. Among other restrictions, those engaged in “public expression” would be required to apply for a permit through the City and pay a fee of $200, in addition to an upfront deposit of $1000. Despite the fact that only a two-day notice was given to the public, there was so much opposition that the Mayor had to send the law back to City Staff for a review. Among concerns raised was the fact that that Staff had entered into a “confidential agreement” with the Chinese government about the proposed bylaw, as well the fact that the staff report literally lied about having garnered “general support” for the bylaw from the BCCLA.

An amended bylaw was released by the City five days ago, on Thursday April 14th. The presentation made by Staff describing the changes is available here. In lieu of the protest fee and deposit, there is now a minimum fine of $1000 for those who break the new rules. The law now allows protests outside of consulates in residential areas, which had been a major concern of the Falun Gong, who took the original bylaw to the Supreme Court and won. However, in addition to the minimum $1000 fine for failure to comply, the structures allowed are even more constrained than originally proposed, there are time restrictions placed on protest, and there is an inability to renew permits, among other things. On April 18 the BCCLA released a strong statement in opposition to the measures: “[These] bizarre, unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on political expression violate free speech; full stop.”

The Olympic Village represents a “fiasco,” but more and more it’s turning into a fiasco of journalism. Prominent columnists have spent the last week trying to convince readers of a financial disaster at the Olympic Village, but the real disaster is that they’re not telling it like it is. Due to the removal of hundreds of units of social housing, the city stands to break even on the project, and perhaps even gain money.

The discussion revolves around the cost of the land on which the Olympic Village sits, bought by the city for $30m. That $30m was paid in full by the developer in 2006. By all standards the city has no liability on the land. There is no loss and no profit because costs have been recovered, net zero. End of the story one might think.

But today in the Globe and Mail, Gary Mason argues that while there is no actual loss, the loss nontheless is “actual” because it “feels like a loss.” According to Frances Bula, also with the Globe, there is therefore “$180-million unpaid amount owing on the land.” But did nobody tell Gary Mason and Frances Bula that the land was given back to the city months ago? How can money be owed on something if that something was returned? – and returned with a $30m fee paid by the borrower.

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B.C. Housing has declared that by the end of the month at least five shelters will be closed throughout Vancouver.* According to the province, the closures are justified because the Station Street housing project has opened this spring. Station Street contains 80 already-full units of housing, but is apparently enough to compensate for the couple hundred people who will be made homeless when the shelters close.

It is significant that Station Street is being used as a basis for closing shelters, because as a perpetually-delayed project Station Street is at the heart of the Vancouver housing crisis. The construction of the Station Street housing was promised in the 1990s but killed by the BC Liberal government when elected in 2001. After one full decade of a freeze on the construction of social housing, combined with frozen welfare rates and a frozen minimum wage, Station Street will not be capable of housing the vast number of people made homeless in these past years.

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The City of Vancouver currently has the lowest business taxes in the world. A report published by the global financial auditor KPMG places Vancouver first out a list of 41 global cities. The main finding of the report, called “Competitive Alternatives 2010 Special Report: Focus on Tax,” is that Vancouver has a tax system more favorable to corporations and the wealthy than anywhere else in the world.

Although the report was released last May, including a press release, it has not received attention in Vancouver’s corporate and alternative press. Instead, local media have placed the international rankings spotlight on Vancouver’s real-estate market, with wide reports that people living in Vancouver currently experience one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world. It is becoming common knowledge that through high-profile events like the Olympics – which the real-estate executives termed a “$6b ad campaign” for Vancouver – the municipal government has been making an effort to attract global financial investment to Vancouver, with direct effects on the cost of housing. The important background of this policy, however, has been the creation of a corporate sanctuary – the national and global elites are being drawn to Vancouver for its low levels of taxation.

Instead of hearing 80 speakers from the public, City Council voted today to defer hearings until a later consulation. Fifty of those speakers were at council to speak against a motion to build condos in the downtown eastside under the Height Review plan (see yesterday’s Editorial).

According to the Mayor’s website, council decided not to hear from the public and voted instead to create a “community committee, chaired by one member of the Building Communities Society and one member of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council. The committee [will] engage with local residents and provide a report to council by December 31, 2011 on community priorities for planning and development in the neighbourhood. As well, the City would commit to completing the social impacts study by December 31, 2011.”

According to the Straight, “the motion called for the report, which proposes building height changes to some sites in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside, to be referred to public hearing and for city staff to conduct a social impact study on low-income residents of the Downtown Eastside.” However, it is not clear if this is actually true, because according the mayor’s website, “Mayor Robertson is recommending that until the social impacts study and the community committee’s report are complete, that council respect existing plans and policies for the Downtown Eastside.”

This means that instead of delaying all plans until public consultation is completed in December 2011, the City is trying to defer public input while rushing ahead with existing plans under the Height Review. According to a Carnegie Community Action Project press release, “five of the condo sites in Chinatown may be going to public hearing in February and could still go ahead.” City policy recognizes that Chinatown is inside the downtown eastside, but now they are treating Chinatown as a separate entity in order to avoid criticism and input. According to Harold Lavender of CCAP, “I live in Chinatown and they just broke the DTES into artificial pieces based on the priorities of developers. If I had a say, I could have influenced their decision. This process is a travesty.” If the City is actually serious about hearing from the downtown eastside, they will stop condo plans for Chinatown until at least December 31, 2011.

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In addition to rent increases caused by the upscaling and renovation of dozens of low-income buildings around the city, Vancouver is losing affordable housing through the outright demolition of buildings. Last month, City Council approved the demolition of the Cecil Hotel. Two months ago, Vancouver City Council approved the loss of almost all low-income housing at the American Hotel, whose tenants were illegally evicted in 2006. Last year saw a drastic loss of housing, with City Council allowing for the closure of low-income hotels surrounding Woodward’s while granting the demolition permit for the 224 housing units at Little Mountain.

Today, however, the provincial and municipal governments jointly proclaim a “partnership of excellence” in the fight against homelessness. Some journalists have written of the “tight bond” between the Province and City under Mayor Gregor Robertson, and it has recently been reported that many Vision councilors were favorable towards Rich Coleman’s leadership bid for the BC Liberal Party because of “all the progress he has been able to make with the City of Vancouver on social housing during this Vision Vancouver term.”[i]

More than anything else, the proclaimed successes of the “partnership” revolve around the construction of fourteen sites of social housing in Vancouver, known as the ‘Vancouver sites.’ The myth of these fourteen sites can be traced to the destruction of housing at Little Mountain.