On May 31st, 2014, another Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES) was sold to an undisclosed private investor for $989,000.00. The St. Ehlmo hotel is located in the East Hastings Corridor at 425 Campbell St. It is a 3-story building with 18 single occupancy rooms which cost approximately $400 per month. For that money, the residents have the “luxury” of sharing two toilets and one shower per floor. The listing for St. Ehlmo hotel on the Colliers International website claims the appeal of the St. Ehlmo hotel is that it “represents a fantastic opportunity to add value and capitalize on the power of revitalization.”
Last week, four Downtown Eastside residents went to court to challenge a Vancouver bylaw that effectively prohibits subsistence street vending in the city. The street vending bylaw penalizes a survival strategy for low-income people who struggle to make ends meet. More than 95% of all street-vending tickets issued in Vancouver were for bylaw infractions in the DTES. The neighborhood is also the location of the city’s highest rates of ticketing for jaywalking.
As an urban geographer, my research focuses on how certain cities around the world become models of best policy practice. Vancouver can rightly call itself a global model. Many around the world recognize this Council and its predecessors for addressing the challenges of climate change. Indeed, at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit, Mayor Robertson showed national and global leadership by arguing for a better Canadian approach to carbon emissions. He also chairs the FCM’s Big City Mayors Caucus.
Chelsea Inn under threat
Residents of the Chelsea Inn, a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) staged a demonstration outside of the building to generate awareness that Steven Lippman had been in contact with the owner. Lippman, who is the founder of Living Balance, has gained a reputation for buying up buildings in the DTES and evicting tenants. Lippman publicly denied interest and the owner, Yahya Nickpour, now claims to have stepped away from the decision to sell. However, this potential threat to the hotel is part of a larger trend of renovictions in the neighbourhood, which has resulted in an overall decrease in affordability, as documented by the Carnegie Community Action Project’s annual Hotel report.
When Dave Rouleau and Monika Benkovich accepted a position from Living Balance to manage 36 SRO (Single Room Occupancy) units in the York Rooms, they had no idea what to expect. “We thought we were totally going to help out all the people in the building,” Rouleau describes in an online interview, “we’d been to rallies on the DTES and looked at it as an opportunity to get on the inside and really tell the truth.” The building’s history in the Downtown Eastside was rife with petty crimes, impoverished living conditions, and a general state of disrepair.
Rouleau and Benkovich’s work involved cleaning up used syringes, evicting at-risk tenants, and dealing with anti-gentrification protests in response to John Cooper’s new upscale Latin-American restaurant below, Cuchillo. It appears that when they accepted the managerial position, they were expecting a certain type of resident with a specific kind of poverty. Those tenants who agreed with their ideology, or who worked with them against opponents of the York, they befriended. “His name is Roger. We are still friends, I talk to him regularly,” Rouleau posted on Facebook, regarding of one of the York Room tenants he bought lunch for, keeping Roger from attending a press conference about his impending eviction. “I was like, look at this fucking crazy press conference, lets get the fuck out of here,” Rouleau replied when questioned.
DTES Local Area Plan, Friday, March 14th
I have represented Gallery Gachet on the LAP Committee. We are an artist-run centre, specifically a centre for artists living with a mental illness. I live with a mental illness. I would not have been able to serve on the LAP as I have save for two things. First, I have stable housing and I no longer struggle to survive each day. I can see beyond my day’s needs. As a result, I’m able to participate in the life of my community as I do today and as I have these past years.
Good afternoon everyone. My name is King-mong Chan and I work with the Carnegie Community Action Project. We are standing here on unceded Coast Salish territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. Indigenous people have gone through so much trauma and suffering through colonization and residential schools – and they still do. They need a place for healing. That’s why I support the low-income caucus’ position calling on City Council to make the Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre a quick-start item. And the caucus wants intergenerational low-income housing on top of the Centre as well.