Two Weeks in Review: WHALES (also, the continuous destruction of affordable housing)

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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.

Big jump in homelessness

The results of the 2014 Metro Vancouver homeless count are in, as of April 23. The numbers show an increase of about a 100 in the overall homeless population in the region, from 2,650 to 2,770. Interestingly, the city of Vancouver as a sub-region alone also saw an increase of about a 100, indicating that other totals in the metro area have stayed steady or even dropped.

Most shocking is the fact that the numbers of homeless out on the street – those who were not inside a shelter at the time of the count – have increased 200% over last year’s count. The homelessness count takes place shortly before the winter shelters close at the end of April, when even more people will be put out on the street.

Heather Place

Tenants and members of the public were at city hall on April 15th to talk about the redevelopment of Heather Place Housing. The landlord of the public housing development, Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (MVHC), is asking for permission from the City of Vancouver to tear down the current buildings to make space for more market towers on the site.

MVHC uses Heather Place market units to generate profits for both subsidized units on site as well as other operations across the region. The market towers are designed to increase the profits it receives from the site. However, MVHC did not disclose how its profits will grow or where they will be directed.

Worse still, about half of the current tenants will not be able to afford the new rents, which will double as part of this large-scale renoviction. Council will vote next week whether to approve the rezoning.

Social housing now means two-thirds market housing

On the same day, April 15th, the proposed bylaw to change the definition of social housing in Vancouver also went to a hearing of city council. The bylaw, introduced in the DTES Local Area Plan last month, proposed that social housing be redefined as housing in which a third of the units are rented at welfare rates, leaving no affordability requirements for the remaining two thirds.

The city had previously changed the Vancouver Charter so that buildings with a third of social housing would be eligible for tax breaks for all units. The bylaw change takes this one step further, and changes the official definition of social housing so that it applies to any amount of units in which a third is social housing. The change will apply citywide.

25 people spoke in opposition to the definition change. In response, the city delayed their decision and later approved it.

Teachers striking over a decade of illegal legislation

On Wednesday, BC teachers began a limited strike action. The primary issues are wages, a lack of contract, and the current inability of teachers to negotiate class sizes or composition in their collective agreement. The latter issue is a result of legislation passed by the provincial government in 2001, which the BC Supreme court ruled as unconstitutional in 2011. The province, however, has not backed down and is currently appealing the decision.

Whale politics

The Aquarium is undertaking an expansion that would see them increase the amount of large marine mammals, or cetaceans, in captivity.

At COPE’s policy conference last month, members decided that COPE’s platform will include a call for a referendum for cetaceans in captivity. The next week, Vision Vancouver Parks Board Commissioners Sarah Blyth and Constance Barnes, who announced that they are not running for re-election, also spoke out about the issue. All Vision commissioners have previously voted against a Green Party/COPE motion for a referendum on cetaceans in captivity.

Now the Mayor says that he’ll try to do something about it, but not hold a referendum.