A house fire on Pandora Street took three lives last Thursday. The event instigated the right-wing NPA to call for an inquiry. However, to ensure tragedies like this do no happen in the future, it is necessary to abandon anti-tenant rhetoric in favour of a more proactive approach that empowers tenants.
No one wants to live in poor housing conditions like those of the Pandora Street house. But in the absence of safe and affordable housing options, renters must choose between inadequate housing and homelessness. And in the absence of strong tenant protection by-laws, fear of eviction condemns tenants to an intolerable status quo.
Several media outlets have drawn attention to the requests for an independent inquiry. Some argue the lives would have been saved had the City shut down the home on account of the illegal living situation. But this would have led to eviction of the nine people living inside, and there were many opportunities for the City to take more proactive action to assist the tenants. Further, it is difficult to ignore that many of the proponents of this ‘eviction solution’ are inspired by intolerance rather than compassion for the tenants themselves (e.g. see the comments at the bottom of this Sun article.)
Earlier this week The Guardian released a Wikileaks cable that discusses logistics and security concerns surrounding the Vancouver Olympics. The cable also contains speculations that the mismanagement of the Olympic Village likely decided the 2008 municipal election that left the city with a Vision majority. Gregor Robertson ran on a platform strongly condemning the NPA decision to reduce the social housing commitment at the Olympic Village. Robertson and Vision Vancouver won the election claiming that they “strongly opposed the previous NPA administration’s cuts of middle and low-income housing from the Southeast False Creek Olympic Village site,” but have since tried to run away from their own promises.
Also appearing in the Wikileaks cable is reiteration of the facts that original security cost estimates of $175 million ballooned to almost $1 billion; that the city paid only $50m for the Olympic Village land (subsequently trying to sell the land to the Millenium corporation for $200m); and that the City of Vancouver currently has a $3 billion fund for property acquisition and social housing, called the Property Endowment Fund (PEF). For years people have been trying to determine the size of the PEF. The original intention of the PEF was, according to May Brown, to benefit the people of Vancouver: “The city was selling land every year, putting money into general revenue to keep taxes down. [Mayor] Art Phillips said this has got to stop. We’re cannibalizing our land . . . The value of the PEF in those days was $100 million. The rationale was simple: citizens should share in the profits from any increase in land value.”
POLICE BRUTALITY |
The BC Civil Liberties Association has stated that the decision not to charge the Vancouver Police Department officer who shot an already neutralized mentally ill man 8 times should be reviewed. This is another case of the archaic policy of police investigating themselves on alleged misconduct.
TENT CITY |
Documents leaked shortly after the Olympics revealed that the provincial government’s main concern prior to the Olympics was the emergence of a Tent City in Vancouver during the Games. There are “Athlete’s Village Tent City 2011” posters covering every corner of the city. Last Sunday, housing activists officially announced the February 2011 tent city by serving a free pancake breakfast in the public plaza of the village, where the tent city is planned to take place.
In related news, the first tenants began moving into affordable housing at the Olympic Village this week. The first building contains 84 units, 75% of which are non-market housing. Among the twenty-one units of affordable housing, none will contribute to ending homelessness because zero will be going to Vancouver residents with “deep core” need, even though 33% of the overall project was originally promised as “deep core” and another 33% as “core need.” The twenty-one units, finally filled years after the city proposed over 600, have recently been deemed tokenism.
SHELTERS INCREASINGLY HOUSE WORKING POOR |
Homelessness is not just a problem in the Downtown Eastside, or even just the municipality of Vancouver. Housing is an issue throughout Greater Vancouver, and things are getting worse according to a recent Georgia Straight article, which reveals that an increasing number of the working poor are relying on shelters, unsettling the common notion that homeless shelters are only used by people on social assistance and unemployed.
We previously reported that on Jan 20 2011, Vancouver City Council will consider a proposal to build seven condo towers in the Downtown Eastside, and that there is significant community opposition to the plan. The City calls the plan the “Historic Area/Precinct Height Review/Study,” while critics call it a “gentrification package” for the Downtown Eastside.
This week, Ray Spaxman spoke out about the plan. On Dec 13, he told The Mainlander that he was more amenable “to getting an area plan going before we do this rezoning.”
Then on Dec 15 Spaxman was interviewed by CKNW’s Phillip Till about the Height Study, where he reiterated the problems of developing a rezoning plan without a community plan: “there seems to be a lack of attention to the impact of that density on all the facilities and services that are needed in the city as a consequence of those extra heights.”
The comments are significant because not only was Spaxman Vancouver’s Director of Planning from 1973 to 1989, but he was also hired by the City in 2007/8 as main researcher and author of the original Sept 2008 Historic Precinct Height Study.
Spaxman told The Mainlander that his contract with the city “was defined to focus on the question of height.” However, he noted his team’s concern that “by talking only about height instead of density and people, the City risks overlooking the social implications of development.”
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.
Vancouver City Council will hold a special meeting this Tuesday, Dec 12, to look over the proposed municipal budget. An administrative report distributed November 15th outlining the budget can be found here. Last Thursday, December 2nd, a public meeting was held, with 18 of the 20 speakers speaking against the proposed budget.
Over the past few months, the city has been engaging the public through telephone, web and paper surveys (around 1300 were completed). According to the report, the most pressing issues in the city for residents are Homelessness, Affordable housing, and Public Transit. The popular focus on poverty and affordability was one of the reasons Vision Vancouver concentrated so much on homelessness during their campaign. Over the past two years, there has been a significant increase in homelessness and more communities are feeling the pressure of a lack of affordable housing. The most valued city services for residents, according to the survey, were Public Libraries, Fire Services, and Garbage Collection.
Longtime Downtown Eastside advocate Jean Swanson has written a letter to City Council and City staff strongly urging them to “hold off on giving developers added density in the DTES…until the Social Impact Study & the DTES Vision are done, [and until] the tenure and assets of the low-income community are secured.”
The letter, sent Dec 10 2010, comes in response to Vision Vancouver’s apparent commitment to finalize an NPA-initiated rezoning package for the Downtown Eastside. The rezoning package, which the City calls the “Historic Area Height Review,” and which others call the “DTES Gentrification Package,” calls for 7 condo towers at particular locations in the Downtown Eastside, as well as a general rezoning of the area to make it more affordable for developers to tear down buildings and replace them with condo developments.
The final policy document will be coming to City Council for approval on Jan 20 2011.
In anticipation of this rezoning policy, developers are already well underway with plans to build condo towers on the old BC Electric building at Hastings and Carrall, as well as at the corner of Abbott and Pender. The general upzoning has led, for example, the owner of the Pantages theatre to replace plans for a preserved theatre flanked by social housing with new plans for an 80% condo development adjacent the Carnegie Centre…
There is a new massive condominium development planned for the South-East corner of Broadway at Kingsway. The building that is set to fill the corner is a 26 story mixed-use development that some have said will “remake the neighbourhood.” It will be designed by Acton-Ostry, who designed the smaller scale Stella up the street on 12th. Units in that development started at around $380,000. According to most recent census data, the median house-hold income is about $10,000 less that the city’s average. It is likely that it will not be current residents of Mount Pleasant who will fill the condos. While there have been quite a few developments in Mount Pleasant over the past few years, all have been on a much smaller scale. In fact, June of this year saw three nights of council meetings discussing a project about half the size on Broadway and Fraser. Residents said they didn’t like the scale and volume of that project, which was only 11 stories.
In an attempt to win over the Mount Pleasant community, Rize Alliance Properties has set up a small park and Christmas tree on the south-west corner of Broadway and Kingsway. Early on Friday night there was a tree lighting ceremony, which featured local children singing Christmas carols and members of the Mount Pleasant Community Police handing out hot-chocolate. The president of the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association was out talking to members about the future project, even describing it as a reassuring “mid-rise” tower.
The lot where the park sits was cleared by a fire on Christmas Day of last year. Many low-income artists lost their studio space and there was a very sympathetic reaction in the community.
The development that is set to fill the corner is a 26 story mixed-use development that some have said will “remake the neighbourhood” . It will be designed by Acton-Ostry, who designed the smaller scale Stella up the street. Units in that development started at around $380,000. According to most recent census data, the median house-hold income is about $10,000 less that the city’s average. It is likely that it will not be current residents of Mount Pleasant who will fill the condos.