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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.

no condos

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.

CCAP Report
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.”

Ming Sun

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.

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Today, Vancouver’s City Council, Parks Board, and School Board are all controlled by a relatively new party called Vision Vancouver. How did this party rise from nothing in 2005 to edge out the once mighty COPE, then soundly defeat the NPA three short years later in 2008? This article tells the story of how the threat of a truly left-wing COPE caused Vancouver’s corporate elite to focus their efforts on infiltrating the party. This led to their facilitating the exodus of the right-wing of COPE into a new corporate party, first called the Friends of Larry Campbell, run by Geoff Meggs, and then named Vision Vancouver.

The implosion of the NPA

Since its formation in 1886, Vancouver’s City Hall has been dominated by business elites and real-estate magnates. In 1937, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) was formed in reaction to workers and tenants successfully organizing and campaigning under the banner of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. For almost seventy years, the NPA represented the interests of Vancouver’s real-estate industry at City Hall.

In 2001, however, a coup was being staged that would completely dismantle the party. NPA stalwarts such as six-term councilor, Gordon Price, jumped ship. A younger and more right-wing city councilor, Jennifer Clarke, positioned herself to take over as de facto party leader. The NPA’s leader, Philip Owen, who had been mayor for eight years, was suddenly excommunicated. Numerous factors were at play. One likely reason for the split was that Clarke and her supporters within the NPA couldn’t accept Owen’s liberal stance on drug addiction, but there were also deep personal conflicts. As Frances Bula wrote for the Vancouver Sun in 2002:

“It was a rupture that affected not just political alliances but very personal ones among the small world of Vancouver’s elite and its old-money families, and what conflicting versions were at play. It came at the end of months of increasing estrangement among the various parties. And it descended, at times, to levels that made it look more like the Divorce from Hell than politics.”[1]

Lagimodiere

Louise Lagimodiere (right) and Dave Hamm (left) – Photo by Ward Perrin, The Province

Louise Lagimodiere (picture above) is a 70-year old Indigenous senior and member of VANDU. “I got two tickets more than a year ago,” she in an interview with The Mainlander yesterday, “but yet I’m still being called to court. I didn’t harm anybody yet they are spending thousands of dollars trying to get money out of me I don’t have. I wouldn’t be vending if I had the money to pay these fines.”

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPPC) has now rejected the reasons given by the Vancouver Mayor and Police Department for dismissing a complaint of discriminatory by-law enforcement in the Downtown Eastside. The complaint was filed by VANDU and Pivot Legal Society when it was revealed that 95% of all vending tickets and 76% of all jaywalking tickets were handed out in the Downtown Eastside. In September 2013, the Mayor dismissed the joint legal complaint and spoke in favor of a VDP board decision to dismiss the VANDU delegation.

The OPPC is a watchdog formed in 2011 in response to a systemic lack of police accountability in British Columbia.

VANDU members have been fighting against discriminatory by-law enforcement for more than a decade. In 2010 VANDU members collaborated on the Pedestrian Safety Project to address traffic safety concerns for pedestrians in the DTES. The VPD opposed the changes, including a 30km speed zone along Hastings. Many of the recommendations of the Project have since been implemented. At a press conference today, however, VANDU vice president Laura Shaver stated that police need to do more to focus enforcing speeds limits for drivers instead of fines for low-income pedestrians. “It is not the people hitting the cars, it is the cars hitting the people,” Shaver said.