Downtown Eastside Housing Crisis Worsens in 2012

While the city brags about its housing accomplishments, the housing crisis in the DTES got worse in 2012.  Not only were there about 850 homeless people, up from 700 last year, thousands of people are still living in crummy SRO hotel rooms with no bathroom or kitchen, and often cockroaches, bedbugs and poor conditions.

To make matters worse, at least 426 hotel rooms that were accessible to low income tenants in 2011 were lost to rent increases in 2012.  That’s one finding of the Carnegie Community Action Project’s CCAP latest annual hotel report, called “We’re trying to get rid of the welfare people.”

“For decades, residential hotel rooms in the Downtown Eastside have been the last resort before homelessness for low income people,” said Fraser Stuart, a DTES hotel room resident.  “This year we lost at least 426 rooms to rent increases above $425.  People on welfare and disability and seniors with a basic pension have only about $375 a month for rent.”

Many hotels are now consciously trying to get rid of people on welfare and disability in favour of young workers and students, says the report, which quotes statements like the one in the report’s title that desk clerks made to CCAP surveyors posing as prospective tenants.

The CCAP report also provides evidence that the  “social mix experiment” at Woodwards is a failure for low income people.  In 2009 developer Ian Gillespie called Woodward’s a “social experiment” and said “Come back in a year and see how this social experiment turns out.” (NYT, November 24 2009). “We lost 404 units of SRO housing near Woodwards to closure or rents at $500 or over,” said report co-author Ivan Drury, pointing to the Metropole hotel across the street from Woodwards.  Rents at the Metropole are in the $700 range.  “We only gained 125 units for low income singles, so there is a net loss of 279 units because of gentrification pressures.”

The hotel report also says:

·         Only 5% of the rooms (159)* are in hotels where all the rents are $375 or lower, down from 7% last year;
·         Vacancies are minimal with only one vacant room found that rents for the welfare shelter rate of $375;
·         Some hotels are still charging between $200 and $375 extra when two people share a tiny room
·         2012 was a terrible year for new self-contained social housing in the DTES with only 24 units opening.

While the city’s DTES Housing Plan calls for the rate of new condos and new social housing to be about even, the CCAP report points out that condos are overwhelming social housing in the DTES with a real rate of change, including hotel rooms lost to low income people because of rent increases, of 27 to one in 2012.  The rate of change not including hotel rooms lost to rent increases is about three condos to one social housing unit between 2005 and 2014 but no new government funded welfare rate social housing is planned after that.

“The city must acknowledge that we have a housing crisis in the DTES,” said report co-author Jean Swanson.  “It needs to slow gentrification to stop the rent increases until senior governments fund new social housing. By congratulating themselves on housing progress, the city undermines its ability to seek senior government funds for desperately needed social housing.”

The report calls on the city to:

·         Buy 10 lots a year for social housing;
·         Stop condo development until current residents have decent social housing;
·         Declare the Oppenheimer and Hastings Corridor areas of the DTES a Social Justice Zone where the unique low income community can survive and thrive.

The province should

·         Fund social housing for 850 homeless residents and SRO replacement units;
·         Amend the Residential Tenancy Act to prohibit discrimination based on social condition
·         Amend the RTA to enact effective rent control based on the unit, not the tenant

The federal government should enact a national housing program to replace at least 1000 SRO units per year for the next 5 years.