November is gentrification month!

November will be gentrification month in the Downtown Eastside.

Gentrification is the process where richer people take over a neighbourhood from poorer people. It’s happened in hundreds of cities across the world and it’s happening in the DTES right now.

In early November, CCAP will distribute 5000 copies of a newsletter called “Word of Mouth” on gentrification to every hotel room and other places throughout our neighbourhood. This newsletter, will explain what gentrification is all about and invite residents to a town hall forum at Carnegie on November 19.

Here are some of the things we want to do in gentrification month. If you can volunteer, talk to Wendy in the CCAP office on the second floor of Carnegie.

· Go door to door in the hotels to distribute the broadsheet;

· Set up a tent on Hastings street to talk to people about gentrification and get signatures on a petition for the city to buy five lots a year for social housing;

· A gentrification tour for city staff and councilors;

· Other actions still to be determined.

But, whatever you do, don’t forget the town hall meeting at Carnegie in the Theatre on Nov. 19th, 11 to 1 pm.

City staff agree with CCAP report, but actions lacking

Vancouver city staff agrees with “many of the conclusions” of the Carnegie Community Action Project’s (CCAP) third annual hotel report, Pushed Out.

Brenda Prosken is the deputy general manager of the community services group at City Hall. She wrote a letter to CCAP organizer Wendy Pedersen. The letter says, “The preliminary results from our own survey of the low income stock reveal similar findings, including a steady increase in rents in the SROs and loss of units renting at welfare rates.”

CCAP’s report says that only 12% of the privately owned hotel rooms it surveyed rent for $375 or less, the welfare and disability shelter rate.

Prosken also said, “(W)e share your concern that no new housing is planned for after 2013.” “We agree that without replacement, continued loss of an aging SRO stock, together with rent increases, may lead to increased homelessness,” Prosken added.

Prosken also said, “We continue to review opportunities for site purchases in the DTES as a first step towards continued replacement of SROs.”

But Wendy Pedersen, CCAP organizer and co-author of Pushed Out, says the city needs to buy more lots in the Downtown Eastside now: “The city should buy at least five lots a year for the next ten years. If the city has lots, it will make it a lot easier to lobby for federal and provincial funds to build the housing,” she said. “Unfortunately, even though the staff say they want to buy land for housing in the DTES, City Council isn’t doing it.” Pedersen said new social housing for low income DTES residents is key to protecting the homes of low income people in the DTES and the good things about the community for low income people.

At an Oct. 20th meeting with City Hall staff who work in the DTES, CCAP presented a list of properties that the city could buy for social housing. But David McLellan, the manager of the community services group, said, “The cupboard is bare because of the Olympic Village.” “It’s still a high priority to keep an inventory of land in all neighbourhoods.”

“That means the city is still focusing on spreading DTES residents throughout the city, not on buying land in the DTES,” said Pedersen. McLellan did admit at the meeting that, “The need (for social housing) is stronger than what’s been provided.”

Pedersen says CCAP and other DTES groups will keep up the pressure on the city to acquire land for social housing.

Pick up a copy of CCAP’s hotel report, Pushed Out, in the CCAP office on the second floor of Carnegie.

 

Letter to Mayor and Council calling for social housing above the new Hastings library

October 4, 2010

Dear Mayor and Council,

Re: new VPL branch at 720/730 East Hastings Street

CCAP would like Mayor and Council to amend the staff recommendation for a “stand-alone” library at 720/730 East Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside. Instead, we want Mayor and Council to do everything in their power to ensure the city builds 100% social housing above the library, if not now, then with a design to support social housing in the future.

There is a lot of support for social housing above the library. CCAP volunteers spent weeks collecting about 1500 signatures on a petition to build 100% social housing on top of that library.

CCAP presented that petition to the VPL board and showed the petition to Councillor Reimer and to Jill Davidson of the City’s Housing Centre. The Carnegie board and library committee met with the consultant and told them we wanted social housing on top of the library. Wendy Pedersen of CCAP spoke to Councillor Louie on the phone in July 2010 and asked that the city, at the very least, design the building so that it could support social housing on top in the future when funding becomes available. With CCAP’s urging, City Council passed a motion on July 6, 2010 that said the city would “explore the possibility of” social housing on top of the library.

In this new Oct 5, 2010 report to council, city staff fail to give any reasons for rejecting the housing option. On the 1st page of the report it says: “COUNCIL POLICY: There is no Council policy related to this matter.” This is wrong. On page 5 of the DTES Housing Plan it says, “SROs are to be replaced with new self-contained social housing for singles,..” Therefore, CCAP expects the city to do everything in its power to uphold this policy, not ignore it.

The desperate need for social housing is increasing every year. At the present time there is not one unit of affordable housing planned for the DTES for after 2013 even though buildings are needed about 6 years now from announcement to moving in day. Only 12% of the privately owned hotel rooms in the DTES are available at $375 (welfare shelter rate) according to CCAP’s latest hotel rent study. This means seniors on pensions and people on welfare are getting pushed out. The whole spectrum of privately owned hotel rooms is moving out of reach. Last year 2 hotels rented for $500 or more a month and this year 11 hotels with 655 rooms rent for $500 or more. Two reasons for this increasing desperation are the responsibility of this Mayor and Council: the city is not living up to its policy of “revitalization without displacement” in the DTES and the city is not living up to its policy to replace the hotels one for one with a self contained unit of social housing in the boundaries of the neighbourhood. Crumbs for the poor at the bottom of condo towers and upscaling hotels are not enough.

The conclusion of the council report says: “CONCLUSION: It is recommended that the DTES/Strathcona Library Branch proceed as a stand-alone building. This [library] project is a high priority for the library board and is supported by the community.” A new library was not identified as a priority or even mentioned by any of the 1200 people CCAP talked to while doing our vision project. These people are “the community.” They did mention over and over that affordable social housing was a priority.

In terms of funding for social housing, it is short sighted to assume that senior governments will refuse to build social housing forever. The library is an awesome chance to get land for free for social housing. The province has a $250 M Housing Endowment Fund that could be spent on social housing. There is a $2.1 billion dollar unallocated BC government surplus over the next 3 years. Bill C-304 National Affordable Housing Strategy is coming to Parliament soon.

    Should the Mayor and Council decide to not put social housing on top of the library, CCAP will take this as an indication that the city is not serious about buying and designating properties for social housing in the Downtown Eastside.

We’re tired of talking to councillors and having them say they want social housing but then do nothing about it. We are discouraged by Councillor Jang’s recent CBC radio interview where he gave 4 excuses for not buying property for social housing in the DTES:

1. It is too much of a drain on city resources [but Council can find money for bicycle lanes, for city hall renovations, but not for buying land in the DTES? And isn’t land a great capital asset the city can’t lose on?];

2. The city must focus on building a spectrum of affordable housing [but those who can pay $550 - $700 a month at the American Hotel have way more options than those at $375 a month who need government subsidy];

3. Commitments from the senior governments must be made first before the city can buy and designate land for social housing [not true, the city nearly always buys land first, sets it aside and then lobbies senior governments for partnerships]; and,

4. There are not many sites to buy in the DTES [not true, CCAP asked council to buy a very cheap DTES property for sale ($600,000 for 50 foot frontage, next to an empty lot owned by a non-profit for a total of 75 foot frontage with up to $300,000 soil remediation) near Oppenheimer for social housing this summer and staff, with Councillor Louie in the loop, said no. The Pantages Theatre could have been sold to the city (twice?), and council said no. Have other sites been rejected by council in camera that CCAP does not know about?

To make matters worse, we only got 6 units at the American Hotel for low-income DTES residents. And, no subsidized housing will be built at the upcoming 60 W Cordova site. This is a pattern of development that we cannot support for the DTES.

From your actions and from Jang’s interview, it is becoming clear to us that you don’t want new social housing projects in the DTES. We hope that Mayor and Council will take this opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to low-income DTES residents, prove us wrong and do whatever it takes to get social housing on the VPL site.

Carnegie Community Action Project

Housing on Library decision postponed for 4 weeks

“That was a dodge,” said Ivan Drury, resident of Strathcona, elected steering committee member of the DTES Neighbourhood Council, after Coun. Tim Stevenson made a motion at the beginning of the council meeting on Thursday Oct 7th to “look into” funding social housing on top of the new library on Hastings, but with “a catch”. The city would move ahead with a stand-alone library if the funding doesn’t come through in about 4 weeks.

About 40 DTES residents and supporters came out to city hall to demand social housing on top of the library. They were alarmed by a City staff report that recommended a stand-alone library despite community pressure over the last 6 months. No rationale was given for this decision in the report, even-though staff were instructed by council to look into this option last July.

Housing advocates viewed the staff report that calls for a stand-alone library as part of a pattern that proves the city is failing to address the loss of housing in the DTES, gentrification and homelessness. (Read CCAP’s letter to the Mayor and Council attached to learn more).

But even though council said they wanted “look into” funding, DTES residents and housing activists did not tone down their speeches and ramped up the pressure. Here is a little bit of what each speaker said:

Ivan Drury: “the feeling is zero representation at the city government and complete disenfranchisement and we have to fight gentrification on the street ourselves. This is the position we’re being pushed into. This is a fight site and if you do not approve housing on this site, we will fight you and we will beat you….It is a battle of belonging and working class people have always belonged in this neighbourhood. ”

Gladys Radek of Walk for Justice and family member of one of the missing and murdered women said: “In terms of the missing and murdered women, the one thing that is seriously lacking is the lack of housing….the city should be looking after us. Start protecting our women and children.”

Ann Livingston, founder of Vandu and Pivot, mother of 4 DTES children, said if you don’t follow through on this then “you are sending a strong signal to our community and anything less is going to look like a no.”

Dave Diewert of Streams of Justice said there were only 280 actual new social housing units built in BC in the last 5 years: “look through the smoke and mirrors of announcements and there is not much there…the DTES is the place and the priority to purchase land for housing…as an ally of DTES residents, I’m standing beside them on this.”

Tristan Markle, VANACT!: “we’re at a fork in the road… on one road council directs staff to find the resources and works day and day out to find the housing and end the gentry…down the other road, the community does what it always does, joins together to create a force more powerful.”

Fraser Stuart, a hotel resident who was formerly homeless and collected 1495 signatures on a petition for housing on the library with CCAP: I “spoke with my neighbours about the library. Most of them didn’t know about it. They said it’s a good place to go when it’s rainy and cold. What they need is homes. I met a woman, crying who said she would lose her children because she lives in a hotel. For 1.5 year she has been on the BC Housing wait list…If it’s a stand-alone library we don’t need it.”

Simone Nettles, mother, member of VANDU, talked about the need to replace the SROs: The hotels have “bedbugs, horrible bathroom conditions, human waste, vomit and blood. I’m paying $525 a month. I have $115 for the rest of the month to support myself. Children are not allowed in and as a mother, it’s really hard. I’m really angry. And I’m just one person. So many people will give up just about anything to have a roof over their head.”

Lorna Bird, President of Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction, said “my daughter is living in a shelter with her kids because there is no place for her to be at this point….I am First Nations and I talk for all my people. We need housing badly in the DTES.”

Richard Cunningham, board member of VANDU and elected steering committee member of the DTES Neighbourhood Council: I am tired of promises, promises, promises. I’m tired of being treated like a 3rd class citizen in a 3rd world country. There’s all this money at Olympic village. I don’t care about the politics of it but I do care about my brothers and my sisters. I have to worry about my health. I don’t want to sit on a toilet after 100 other people have. I worked on Woodwards for many years and look what we got: yuppies, yuppies, yuppies. You are spending money of frivolous things but hey, we are human beings, so treat us with respect.”

Laura Stannard of the Citywide Housing Coalition: This is a “symbol of push-comes-to-shove…. that arrives from enormous desperation and well founded fear that we’re losing the battle against unfettered drive for profit. The day and age that we let Rich Coleman or anyone in the provincial government set the agenda for what we want to do and plan in our city is really the day we don’t need a city government. I can say emphatically on behalf of CHC that the city needs to secure more property for social housing in the DTES. In order to stop the gentrification process that is literally killing DTES residents, it needs to curtail condo development until we have more social housing.”

Nathan Compton helped with tent village during the Olympics and is a member of VANACT!. He said about the motion to “look into” social housing “is not a generous and meaningful proposal. I have no confidence in this council and no credibility and I’ll go forward with my forms of engagement outside of the city process. We should have no faith in the future when you can’t guard and protect existing units. You gave a token 6 units at the American…meaning you approved the eviction of the tenants and the flipping of the building….You have no plan for after 2013 even though you know it takes 4,5,6 years to bring more housing on line. If you have no plan is then I’ll tell you what my plan and what our plan is. Our plan is to intervene directly into the failed process around the Olympic village. A tent city on the 1 year anniversary of the Olympics.”

Beth Malena is a Pastor living in Strathcona, who works with many low-income families in the area said: “I live 4 blocks away from the proposed library. I love books. I love reading….But there is something I love more than books. That’s my friends and neighbours in Strathcona and the DTES. Many of them need housing I’d happily give up my library so they can have roofs. But hey, there is a possibility of doing both, I can love books and my friends. It’s perfect. But it might take time. We might have to wait a couple of years. But if there is one thing that I learned about my friends…they have learned patience…yes patience is running out for housing….but we can be patient for a library….we can’t wait for housing.”

Stan Kupferschmidt, a Strathcona resident and Vanact!: “I see more and more people in my back alleys and clearly this is because people are being pushed out of their housing…As a newly attending member of the Strathcona Residents Association, I want the DTES to be healthy and safe for all….not just for a few fear mongering property owners. You know what you have got to do.”

Sir Scott: “I collected about 500 out of those signatures [on the CCAP petition]…we have to continue to work on what you promised these people. They are dying on the streets. I’m sick of this, you hold the power and you are doing nothing.”

Dave Murray, CCAP volunteer: “I have been homeless, lived in hotels, all the greatest ones, including the Balmoral….I’ve slept in a few doorways and parks and some laneways in Strathcona. This is really a no brainer. Carnegie Action wants you to buy 5 properties a year for social housing and you don’t even have to buy this one…..this would be 1 down and 4 more to go…If we could get housing above the library….I could actually live there and be among my people. Give a man a home, he has a chance to move forward and has his dignity.”

In the end, only Coun. Ellen Woodsworth argued and voted for including housing in the library (Coun Cadman was absent). Remaining city councillors voted to keep the library on schedule with an exploration of possibilities for social housing in the next 4 weeks. So, no guarantees. We’re not super hopeful. Likely we’ll get stuck with a political decision to have no housing on top of the library disguised as a technical decision about funding, timing and capacity on the site. Where to go from here? Stay in touch with CCAP to find out what happens with this campaign.