Tuesday Morning Paragraph – Does social housing “enable” bad behavior?

unity-diane

Carnegie Community Action Project

Tuesday, June 22, 2009

Dear Mayor & Council,

Does social housing “enable” bad behavior?

Here’s what some people in CCAP’s mapping sessions said about the social housing they live in:

“Housing like the Jim Green Residence makes us feel good about ourselves, not bathrooms that are plugged or with blood all over the wall or … [bathrooms where] you have to put [sandals] on to keep away from the germs.”

“I like [the Jim Green Residence]. I have been living in hospitals like St. Paul’s most of my life. This feels like home. It’s safe. People are nice and friendly here. I have help from a lot of people which I didn’t have before.”

“Four Sisters: It’s my home. It’s where I feel free and I feel safe. The DTES is the place where I’ve drank most of my life and lived in rooming houses….Here it’s like I have a real family. What do they say? Mom and apple pie. It’s my family and my home.”

“Four Sisters or Lore Krill: You can take pride living there. Lore Krill has a water fountain. The roof top garden is beautiful. It’s a sanctuary home. Four Sisters has lots of kids. I like the wine and cheese, the barbeques there, the green space in the middle. Getting a nice home changes your way of thinking.”

Here’s what two mappers said about living in SROs:

“I could have a whole other life if I could just be in affordable housing. Living in an SRO limits my capability of being a grandmother.”

“None of the places I’ve been in are adequate that you can invite your family….”

In short, social housing “enables” people to be secure, helps provide a community, and gives people a base from which to seek their full potential.

Archive of previous paragraphs:

Social Innovation

Sharing

We care about each other

To stop social exclusion

This area is like a stronghold

Acceptance

DTES problems will not change by throwing richer people into the mix

Build On Current Assets

Study shows Downtown Eastside housing situation is getting worse

Still Losing Hotel Rooms: CCAP’s 2009 Hotel Survey and Report

A new Carnegie Community Action Project report says rents in hotel rooms are escalating beyond what low-income Downtown Eastside (DTES) residents can afford. Still Losing Hotel Rooms: CCAP’s 2009 Hotel Survey and Report says at least 694 more rooms are now renting at over $425 per month, $50 above the welfare shelter rate. Last year CCAP found 889 rooms renting at over $425 so this brings the total to 1583 hotel rooms, the last resort before homelessness, that are not affordable to people on welfare, disability or basic seniors pension.

CCAP’s second annual report is based on a door to door survey of privately owned hotels in the DTES by volunteers posing as prospective tenants. CCAP checked out 88 hotels with 3605 rooms and got information from 63 hotels with about 91% of the rooms.

“Even though about 344 previously closed hotel rooms have opened up under non profit management and nearly 338 new units for low income people are expected to open up this year, the number of units for low-income people will be slightly less than last year because of rent increases in privately owned hotels,” explained CCAP organizer and report co-author Wendy Pedersen.

“With the Olympics coming to Vancouver and SFU students coming to the new Woodwards, competition for hotel rooms could push up prices even more and drive more people into homelessness,” said co-author Jean Swanson.

The report also found 12 more hotels charging exorbitant double bunking rents since last year, and illegal guest fees in at least 5 to 8 buildings. CCAP found several hotels renting on a daily/weekly basis and fears they may evict permanent residents during the Olympics so they can get more money.

CCAP also reports on the number of hotels slated to open up thanks to the purchase and lease of rooms by the provincial government and non-profits. Although necessary, these rooms are still a form of temporary housing and will not solve the housing crisis. They are not real permanent homes where tenants can unpack, put down roots and be equal members in the community. The report also found that the city’s goal of replacing about 5000 hotel rooms with new self-contained homes for DTES residents will take 53 years at the current rate.

CCAP’s recommendations include building more social housing, making rent control effective, ending the law that allows owners to rent 10% of their rooms on a daily/weekly basis, and raising welfare and minimum wage.

Tuesday Morning Paragraph – Build on Current Assets

unity-diane

Carnegie Community Action Project

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dear Mayor & Council,

How should we preserve the Downtown Eastside as a low-income community?

Reason #8: Build on the current assets

The city has imposed a theory of “revitalization without displacement” on low income residents of the Downtown Eastside. This “involves introducing middle income households and workers who bring disposable incomes that support retail and a normalization of social behaviour and expectation” (see source below). The 75% of residents who are low-income had no say in this plan.

“Revitalization” has already begun, but it’s condo owners who are coming, not middle income and working households. Displacement is happening because land speculation in the DTES, and high rents in other parts of the city are enabling hotel owners to increase their rents to beyond what low-income people can pay.

Introducing richer people to “normalize social behavior and expectation” is a poor bashing concept with no place in a city that respects diversity. It can’t work, anyway, because people on the street don’t have the resources, like toilets, money, and homes, that condo owners have.

Some condo owners are organizing to get rid of low-income residents and the services they depend on. Gastown has become a dysfunctional community where the 70% of residents who are low-income walk by businesses they could never hope to shop in and get harassed by security guards in their own neighbourhood.

There’s a better way to make a neighbourhood healthy. You ask the people who live there what the strengths and assets of the community are. You stabilize what’s there and enhance the good things that are already working. This is the process that the Carnegie Community Action Project is working on. Stay tuned.

Source: Cameron Gray, City of Vancouver Housing Centre, April 7, 2006 “The Downtown Eastside: Who Lives There and It’s Role in the City and Region (yesterday, today, tomorrow, the day after, and making it through the night)

Archive of previous paragraphs:

Social Innovation

Sharing

We care about each other

To stop social exclusion

This area is like a stronghold

Acceptance

DTES problems will not change by throwing richer people into the mix

Tuesday Morning Paragraph – Gentrification Does Not Fix Social Problems

unity-diane

Carnegie Community Action Project

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dear Mayor & Council,

Why should we preserve the Downtown Eastside as a low-income community?

Reason #7: Contrary to some what some people think, mixing low-income people with higher income people does not, by itself, create a better situation for the low income people.

In 2006 the City’s Housing Centre Director, Cameron Gray, wrote that “revitalization” of the DTES “involves introducing middle-income households and workers who bring disposable incomes that support retail and a normalization of social behaviour and expectation.” This idea that middle-income people will provide an uplifting example to poor people is not based on real evidence.

Much of the research done on this is in the US where the benefit of mixing incomes is thought to be that the low income people get to use the better schools and parks that middle-income neighbourhoods have.

In BC, schools and parks aren’t funded by neighbourhood. Services for poor people are not better in richer neighbourhoods because they are almost all services that require money and are not appropriate to the needs of low-income people. Even community centres in middle-income areas in Vancouver charge fees that poor people don’t have.

DTES problems, like drug dealers congregating in several areas, people peeing on the streets, open drug use, and the general appearance of poverty cannot be counteracted by throwing richer people into the mix. To be solved, these problems require decent affordable housing, adequate income and probably the end of drug prohibition. Only in a place like the DTES, with its strong history of community activism, can the real solutions to problems like this take hold.

Archive of previous paragraphs:

Social Innovation

Sharing

We care about each other

To stop social exclusion

This area is like a stronghold

Acceptance

To Councilor Jang and Councilor Meggs

ccap logo

June 5, 2009

To Councilor Jang and Councilor Meggs,

We understand you are meeting with some business owners in Gastown to discuss the behavior of the tenants of the Dominion Hotel. We hear from tenants and management of the Dominion that business owners have been aggressive and rude to the Dominion tenants. One of our organizers, Wendy Pedersen, spoke to the Mandula business owner and her friends two days ago. This is what Wendy said:

Tenants have a historical right to be here and make up 70% of the population of Gastown.

“Gentleness and acceptance” is needed to help those who have been marginalized

We can show we care by asking questions and getting involved to get more supports in place if needed as this can reduce conflict and make life better for everyone.

The business owners got very angry and aggressive and said “How dare you come here on your bike without a business card and setting up an appointment. These people should not be allowed to live here. They are on the slow track. All they care about their drugs. They are ruining our businesses. They should get a job.”

The whole issue is a good example of why the city should re-examine the DTES Housing Plan’s goal of “revitalizing” the DTES by encouraging more market housing. The theory is that richer residents will have more purchasing power and enable businesses to have more customers. This theory seems to be mixed in with a leftover 19th Century poor-bashing one that if you mix the rich with the poor, it somehow uplifts the poor or teaches them better behavior.

In fact, what happens is not a social mix but social exclusion. Even though 70% of the people who live in Gastown have low incomes, they are not considered part of the power structure or community there. At CCAP’s mapping sessions we asked folks what the most uncomfortable and unsafe places in the DTES were. Gastown was listed often in this category because (quotes from Downtown Eastside residents follow):

“They are not really a neighbourhood. They are from the suburbs who don’t live here – and then drive away.”

“They are mainly a commercial centre that is for tourists and not for people in the neighbourhood. High end stores that cater to tourists. I don’t think the business owners are sympathetic to the DTES or our interests.”

“Gastown. Sinister night crowds and swarms of people waiting to get inebriated; their perception of the environment breeds contempt and legitimizes violence against the people here.”

“If you try to walk and look into stores, you are trailed by a rent-a-cop and asked to move along.”

To be fair, the DTES Housing Plan calls for the housing to be affordable and rental which wouldn’t be creating such a large divide in the community. But this is not happening. The vast majority of the new housing in the DTES are condos, which attract a more upper class owner and exaggerate the income divide in the DTES. For several years the city has been talking about creating a rate of change mechanism to control condo development, but no action has been taken.

The kafuffle at the Dominion is not the only example of better off people in the DTES trying to get rid of long time residents who are poor. It happened when Van Horne residents wanted to get rid of the line-ups at the Dugout; when some Strathcona residents opposed having the proposed new library serve the street population on the North side of Hastings; when some objected to arts and crafts store for low-income women at the Rice Block; when the WISH drop in was opposed and now a new site for United We Can on Alexander Street is being opposed by some residents at The Edge.

To us this means that the situation of current DTES residents needs to be stabilized before new condos are allowed to come in. We will be releasing our 2009 hotel survey soon. This survey will show that at least 694 more SRO rooms have increased their rents to over $425 a month in one year! Even though the city has provided shelters, the province has bought hotels, and this year some new social housing is opening up, gentrification is pushing up rents in cheap hotels, the last resort before homelessness.

Gentrification includes more than simply replacing cheap with more expensive housing. It also creates a different power structure in neighbourhoods (diminishing the voice of low income people), changes the businesses and services that low income people need for survival, and creates rising property values which increase rents and gradually push poorer people out. Gentrification changes the whole feel and comfort level in a neighbourhood. People with health and addiction issues who feel acceptance in the DTES now (the first step for recovery) could feel discriminated against and stereotyped by the new residents.

CCAP thinks that the city can solve this problem. In the fall we will present you with a report, based on input from over 1200 low income DTES residents. It will be a roadmap to stabilize the existing DTES community, nurture businesses that are not in a bubble and that genuinely serve everyone and go on to develop it into an amazing low income neighbourhood that is affordable, safe and healthy for its residents, which Vancouver can be proud of and many people will visit. We hope you will consider these points in your future decisions about the DTES.

Sincerely,

Carnegie Community Action Project Organizers