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.
I am a disenfranchised member of the DNC [Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council]. I was the longest serving co-chair of the DNC until I was unduly removed. I am here to present the Low-income Caucus’s position. I have some information here – I have some pamphlets, if madam clerk can please dispense these.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
Today, City inspectors arrived unannounced to the Ming Sun Benevolent Association building and performed an inspection. The building, containing affordable housing, the artist collective Instant Coffee, and artist studio spaces for low-income Chinese seniors at 439 Powell has been under ongoing threat of demolition. The threat continues despite the fact that “several independent structural reports stated that the Ming Sun Building is structurally sound,” according to activists who have been fighting to save the site.
Several people who have been working to save the building had arrived early to perform repairs on the building, but were surprised by the arrival of City staff, sparking concerns that the building would be demolished immediately.
The concerns were amplified when at least a dozen vehicles from Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services arrived on the scene with lights flashing.
A coalition of citizens, called “Friends of 439,” has formed to preserve the building. This morning about a dozen concerned supporters of the building converged at 439 Powell to keep watch over the property.