By Jean Swanson and Harold Lavender
Vancouver has approved the DTES Local Area Plan. What will be its positive and negative effects? Was it worth the three-year effort put in by low-income reps to work with the City?
What We Won
There are few useful things. The plan includes the 60% social housing and 40% rental housing zoning for the
Oppenheimer area. This will slow gentrification in this area. People on welfare will be able to afford to live in 1/3 of the new social housing in the DTES, except Chinatown.
A strong community backed campaign led the City to include an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre in the plan. Staff have been told to work on it. There is a lot of work to do to make sure such a centre reflects a genuine aboriginal healing vision. But it is possible.
What We Lost
The DTES will continue to be gentrified and low-income residents will be displaced. There will be no slowing of rapid market development except in the Oppenheimer area. Ten units of condos and expensive rentals will be built for every one unit of social housing at welfare rates. The City’s social mix model will make the DTES a mostly middle income area over the 30 year life of the plan.
The city will subsidize SRO owners to upgrade rooms but without rent controls (there is only a non binding target of 1/3 available at welfare rates). Rents could skyrocket. 3350 low income residents are at high risk of being pushed out. The number of proposed new social housing units is far too low and there is far too little commitment of government money to meet the low income residents’ basic housing needs. Meanwhile the city has approved micro suites of as little as 250 square feet in the DTES, as opposed to 400 in the rest of the city. Those squished into tiny spaces will probably want to move out as soon as something better is available.
The terms of reference said the plan was to make the future better for low-income and vulnerable people. But the City ignored this and wrote a plan that didn’t reflect the urgent housing crisis low-income residents kept telling them about.
Some people say the result wasn’t worth the effort. But probably if low-income people hadn’t been on the committee, we would not have gotten the rezoning of the Oppenheimer area. After a huge fight we got a legal definition of social housing that requires 1/3 of social housing in the DTES (except Chinatown) at welfare rates. This is very far short of our goal of 100 percent of new social housing in the DTES accessible at welfare rates. But if we hadn’t pushed hard it would have been legal for social housing to exclude everyone on welfare and disability.
The bad things in the plan mean the low income community will be destroyed unless we fight back really hard.
There is no law with teeth to stop business and housing gentrification. Meanwhile people with money are buying up SROs, evicting people, renovating them, and increasing rents. We need to organize with SRO residents to stop evictions and work towards city and provincial policies that grant SRO residents rights and protection against renovictions.
At the same time, governments at all levels are failing to use tax money to invest in basic social needs such as housing. We need to step up pressure to stop giving tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations, and spend more money on the public good.