Development Permit Board June 23, 2008, Jean Swanson’s speach

When you are considering this today, urge you to expand you role as broadly as you can ; to realize that we have a huge homeless problem in Van and that building expensive condos in the dtes is taking up land that could be used for social housing, increasing land values and making desperately needed social housing less likely, and converting the shops and services in the neighbourhood to serve the well-off, not current residents.

Notification letter: “The Board will also need to consider City bylaw regulations, and council-adopted policies and guidelines.”

Assume that would include the DTES HP

I want to deal with 3 parts of the dtes HP:

One for One: The HC report claims that SROs are being replaced one for one in the dtes. The only way they can say this is by including the sros that the province bought. Ok. Its good that the province bought them but sros are not replacements for sros. They are still one tiny room with a bathroom down the hall and no kitchen. They are still seismic disasters waiting to happen. They don’t provide permanent, community building type of housing.

Secondly, the HC report ignores soft conversions. Soft conversions happen when hotels that house low income people go upscale. This week a report is going to council that says the Columbia Hotel, which used to house low income residents, now has only 29 permanent residents for its 60 or so rooms, and is renting for $800 to $1000 a month, while a person on welfare gets $610 in total. Other hotels are renting daily/weekly like this. CCAP’s hotel survey found 889 rooms, in addition, that rent for over $425 a month and are not affordable to people on welfare. Some hotels rent only to students.

The latest homeless count said that there are about 3000 homeless people in the region. If you allow condos to take up land and push up prices in the dtes, those hotels are going to be emptying out even more low income people who will become homeless on the st. This is more important than cornices, or building massing, or “variability and syncopations of the retail elevation.” This is why these condos at 58 W. Hastings will not be “a great benefit to the neighbourhood.”

Affordability: The dtes HP says at least 17 times that new development should be affordable and affordable rental. I don’t know what definition you’re using for affordable. But here’s a reasonable one. The average wage for a Canadian worker in 2008 was about $42,000 a year, about twice the poverty line for a single person. How about affordable, as opposed to low income, being something that a person earning between the poverty line of $21,000 and the average wage of $42,000 can afford at 30% of income. That means we need a range of rents of around $525 to $1050 per month to be affordable. In this development we’re dealing with small suites so its doubtful if a working couple would occupy them. According to pro forma’s that we’ve seen, it would cost $1100 a month to pay for a 400 sf unit in the dtes. So these units are not going to be affordable by the sales and service woerkes in the the DT (average $28,000), or even by the average business, financial and administrative worker ($40,000).

Pace: The DTES HP says at least 7 times that the rate of change should be monitored and at least 7 times that mecnahisms to control the rate of change should be developed. At least once it says “a key implementation piece in the hP is the development of mednanisms to manage the rate of change…(p6). Last spring the HC produce a report which shows that the real rate of change, not the one that counts sros as replacements for sros and ignores conversion, but the real rate of change is about 3 new market housing units being build to 1 new social housing unit. The hp says at least 6 times that the dtes should be a primarily low income community. If 3 condos are built for every one social housing unit, this is not going to happen. We need those rate of change mechanisms now and one of them is for you to just say no to this development—or you could sit down with the developer and work on a way for him to turn it into social housing.

The Panel thinks this development would be of great benefit to the neighbourhood. This development is an insult to the neighbourhood. We have a real community in the DTES where people feel comfortable, say hi on the street, need the services, and yes some of them are desperately poor and sick.