King-mong speaking to residents
On Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday this past week over a hundred people spoke at City Hall while city council deliberated over the Downtown Eastside local area plan. For three days residents and supporters agitated against elements of the plan that put forward tenant relocation and widespread displacement. In this series, we’ll feature some of those powerful and moving speeches heard at City Hall. These speeches belong to the community and the authors have kindly allowed us to re-publish their words. If you have a speech that you want to share with us, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org –
Carnegie Community Action Project
DTES Local Area Plan, Friday, March 14th
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.
WE HAVE A CRISIS HERE! 4,000 people living in SROs with terrible undignified housing and 731 homeless. And these aren’t statistics or numbers, they are human beings like you and I. You know this – so many speakers have brought this up already. That’s why we have over 6,000 signatures for our two petitions. And that’s why the plan needs to build 5,000 units of social housing on welfare/pension rate within 10 years.
And the crisis is getting worse. Our neighbourhood is being invaded by gentrification – by condos, expensive housing, high-end businesses, boutique shops. As a result, we’re seeing a massive increase in land values in the DTES. We’re also seeing rents increasing beyond what low-income residents can afford – people are being displaced! This year we’ve lost another 236 low-income units – 236 more units are renting above $425/month. Compare that with the $375 that low-income people, like those on welfare, have at their disposal. $375 is not enough.
Through the Plan, the City needs to strongly advocate the provincial government for higher welfare rates. How many more low-income units have to be lost and how many more people need to be displaced before you take strong action to protect them? As a result of gentrification, low-income Chinese seniors living in a non-profit housing have also faced the possibility of rent increases as high as 40%. I would like to respond to Councillor Tang’s comment on this. He has stated that increasing the SAFER limits will solve the problem for these tenants. But this addresses only one of the symptoms of the issue; it doesn’t address the cause at all. How can we treat our seniors like this by not addressing gentrification? We have to slow it and stop it.
The rezoning of the Oppenheimer District to 60/40 can slow this process down. I am here asking for at least this 60/40 because 100% social housing is what our community needs. 60/40 will slow down the increase in land prices, control hotel rents from going up even more, and make land more affordable so that we could get more social housing in the future – again getting social housing by strongly advocating senior levels of government. However, that being said, the 60/40 proposal is heavily diluted by the weak definition of social housing proposed. We need all social housing to be accessible to people on welfare/pension rate of $375.
I speak here today bringing also the voices of many Chinese community members that I’ve talked to and met in the area. They tell me that food prices are increasing rapidly these past few years in the shops they’ve shopped at for decades. Food prices are consuming up more and more of their meagre incomes, already heavily burdened with medication and health costs. Two weeks ago, a Chinese elder living in Chinatown asked me, “the developments going up in Chinatown– are they for us?” I was ashamed to tell him the truth – that only 22 units of over 500 units are for the low-income community and only half of that at shelter/pension rate. He and the other Chinese community members in the room were appalled. I got a similar response when I told another group of Chinese community members about the targets for affordability because they realized the majority of so-called “social housing” would be inaccessible to them. They want new developments to have higher percentages of social housing at welfare/pension rate.
Despite the poor housing conditions in the DTES, there is an existing amazing community in the DTES – people who have built a community of services, resources, and support networks, people who have a right to remain where they live, people who have a right to not be priced out due to gentrification.
City Council, the choice lies before you with this Local Area Plan. If you don’t put in 60/40 zoning in the Oppenheimer District, define social housing to be accessible to people on welfare/pension rate and implement other points of the Low-income Caucus’ position, you will be putting forward a plan that will tear apart this beloved community.
Saturday November 15th. Municipal Election. You can be sure I will tell others of the decisions made for this Plan and what each of you stood for. MLA Kwan and MP Davies supported 60/40 and have said that social housing must be accessible to people on welfare/pension rate. I hope you will do the right thing and implement the Low-income Caucus’ position in the Plan and the amendments that CCAP have called on you to make in our letter that you have received. Thank you.