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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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If you have been reading the newspapers the last week you will have heard about the City’s Local Area Plan (LAP) for the Downtown Eastside area.

At the forefront is the “60/40” rental-only policy for the DTES Oppenheimer District (DEOD), which the Courier is calling “the most controversial piece of the plan.” While the city is proposing mostly condos for the rest of the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown, this Oppenheimer rent-only plan is inspiring a heated debate.

The 60/40 clause stipulates that all future rezonings in the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District (DEOD) must have a 60 to 40 ratio of “social housing” to “market rental.” Developers are opposing the clause, arguing that it will hinder further market development in the area. The Carnegie Community Action Project has raised strong criticism of the overall LAP but agrees that the clause is the “only concrete and definitive measure in the LAP that addresses [community] concerns.”

While there has been an intense debate about the topic, few articles have explored the meaning and the consequences of the 60/40 commitment. What exactly is the 60/40 proposal? What does social housing mean in this context? What will be the range of rents? Will it actually hinder market development?

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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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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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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.”