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Julia Aoki
DTES Local Area Plan, Public Hearing
Friday, March 14th

Hello, my name is Julia Aoki and I would like to recognize that we are on unceded Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish First Nations territory. I am a PhD candidate in the School of Communication at SFU, a long-time volunteer, and former interim general manager of the Powell Street Festival Society that is held in Oppenheimer Park each year, and for some time (though no longer) I sat on the Oppenheimer Park Commemorative Task Force. I am here speaking on my own behalf.

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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.

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Kelvin Bee, Kwakwaka’wakw Aboriginal Front Door elder, his son Hank,
and Victoria Bull, stand before Vancouver City Council on Saturday
Photo by Erica Holt

After three days of public hearings, Vancouver city council has approved the Downtown Eastside local area plan. The LAP is a 30-year plan for real estate development in the Downtown Eastside, with the aim of accommodating more than 8,850 new condominium dwellers and 3,300 high income renters while dispersing at least 3,350 low-income residents out of the neighbourhood.

Councillors from the rightwing NPA and Vision Vancouver unanimously voted in favour of the plan.

A dissenting vote was cast by Adriane Carr of the municipal Greens, along with more than eighty low-income residents and their supporters. Throughout the public hearings, residents and community activists called for the protection of affordable housing, a definition of social housing that does not exclude poor people, the replacement of run-down SROs and the construction of new social housing in the Downtown Eastside. These demands circulated through a 3,000-signature petition.

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For $25,000 you could have attended a private roundtable lunch meeting today with Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. Organized by real estate marketer Bob Rennie, it’s the most recent, and perhaps most tasteless, case of the real estate industry filling Vision’s coffers.

Bob Rennie is the most prominent condominium marketer in British Columbia. His following of real estate agents, brokers and, more importantly, developers, has earned him the moniker condo king.

The biggest players in real-estate keep him as close as possible, ensuring they’ll have the ear of BC’s most powerful politicians. Peter Wall of Wall Financial Corp, for example, maintains access to Rennie by paying him $25,000 a month as a consultant.

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This week the Provincial government and Metro Vancouver mayors said they’re out of ideas on how to expand the transit system. That’s a huge problem because the biggest thing that we can do locally to fight climate change is switch from private cars to public transit.

The best way to cause that shift is to put a transit pass in everyone’s hand, and make it affordable. But recent moves toward fare increases and fare gates mean that we’re actually increasing emissions.

Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Metro Vancouver. Of the just over 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gases that we emitted into the atmosphere in 2010, a majority (53% or 5.5 million tonnes) was caused by vehicles. [1]

In turn, almost all vehicular emissions were caused by passenger cars and other personal vehicles (about 4 million tonnes) or commercial vehicles (over 1 million tonnes).

TransLink estimates that switching from car to transit will reduce a person’s CO2 emissions over four-fold (from 224 grams of greenhouse gases per km travelled to only 50 grams). Indeed the reduction may be even more significant. Although 16% of commuters take public transit, they contribute only about 1% of vehicular emissions (0.07 out of the 5.5 million tonnes).

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CCAP 2013 Hotel Survey and Housing Report. Alexander Court is a gentrified hotel that is in the process of renovating and charging higher rents that people on welfare can’t afford.

The Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) has completed its yearly update on affordable housing in the Downtown Eastside. The sixth annual report, No Place To Go: Losing Affordable Housing & Community, written by Rory Sutherland, Jean Swanson and Tamara Herman, was released this week.

The study paints a bleak picture, pointing out that in addition to the hundreds left homeless in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), another 5,000 are on the brink of homelessness, living in cramped Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel rooms. If the conditions weren’t bad enough – “no private kitchen or bathroom, and often poor management, mice, rats, cockroaches and bedbugs,” notes the report – its residents are increasingly at risk of being displaced.

Owners of these hotels are in the process of renovicting residents, looking to raise rents and profit from gentrification which is “driving up property values and property taxes” in the neighborhood. Increasingly too expensive for those on welfare, disability and basic pension, these buildings are gradually geared towards “students and workers, advertise online only, and have intensive screening processes designed to filter out low-income individuals.” Some owners have even begun asking for potential tenants’ LinkedIn profiles – one clear effort, among many, to weed out certain potential tenants.

One company, called Living Balance, has played a role in this process of making SRO’s primarily available for a different group of people. “Living Balance buys hotels, gets rid of tenants on welfare, upgrades slightly, then rents the rooms for higher rents,” says the report. “In fact, the Pivot Legal Society reported that a Living Balance Building manager used bribes and intimidation to force low-income residents out of their building. This allows the company to then raise the rents as much as it wants between occupancies.”

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For five years, Vision councillors have argued that the City of Vancouver can’t use its own powers to build and protect affordable housing. Councillor Geoff Meggs has reiterated to The Tyee this week that threats to affordable rental housing are “beyond city hall’s control.” Despite their refusal to publicly criticize the provincial government, Vision has maintained that social housing and rent control are each the sole jurisdictions of senior governments.

Critics have often cited municipal housing authorities and rent control boards in cities like Toronto, New York and Vienna. It has often been pointed out that Vancouver too has a housing authority – something few people know about because city council has allowed it to remain dormant since being elected in 2008.

In response to these criticisms, Vision councillors have played the “jurisdictional” card, passing the buck to other levels of government. According to Vision, “the city gets blamed for the problem when the powers to fix it lie with the provincial government.” Yet the Mayor has been supportive of the BC Liberal government since being elected in 2008. Not once has Robertson or council publicly called on the Province to increase funding for housing or change the Residential Tenancy Act. At the end of the day, the main financial backers of Vision also control BC Housing and are the main BC Liberals donors.