How Many Condos?


DERA meeting on Historic Area Height Review – April 27 2009

Written by Jean Swanson

The first thing I want to say is that Wendy and I and Andy, our planner at CCAP, were horrified when we saw the city’s Heritage Area Height Review (HAHR) documents.  We have told the planners for months that it’s not fair for the city to decide what height DTES buildings should be if there is no plan for the area and if we don’t know what the buildings are going to be used for.

We urge everyone here and in the Downtown Eastside to speak up as loudly as they can against having any more height added to the DTES before we get a local plan that low income residents develop and agree to.

What’s wrong with the Height Review? The worst part is that the city is even considering allowing 16 sites in the DTES to have towers ranging from 15 to 30 stories high.  The city says we might be able to get some amenities if we allow towers. That means, if the city allows developers to build, say, 210 condos in a tower, they might, in a best case scenario, and in good times, and with government subsidies, also build 30 social housing units.  This would mean that we could get thousands of new condo owners in the DTES and only a few hundred social housing units-low income residents would be completely overwhelmed with condo owners and the whole feel of the neighbourhood, as a diverse, low income friendly place would be gone.  Businesses for upscale people, like stores that sell dog clothes and fancy furniture and perfume would start taking over from social services and places serve low income folks.  To top it off, a well known architect has told us that no condo developer would put in any social housing in this economic climate.  The facts are, we can’t get enough social housing from condos and we can’t have thousands of condos without overwhelming the low income neighbourhood.

With property owners knowing that 16 sites are available for heights up to 30 stories, speculation will be rampant, and prices of lots we need for social housing will start increasing.  Hotels will start converting to richer residents and low income folks could be driven out by rent increases as well as by feeling uncomfortable in their own community.

The report also suggests in Option 2, that there could be an overall 10% increase in height in the whole area.  CCAP also rejects this as it will increase property taxes for small business and social services and mainly benefits property owners by increasing the value of their property with a stroke of the pen.

So much is missing from this study that I won’t have enough time to list them all:

What would the social and economic impact of this additional height have on low income residents of the DTES?  What are the taxation implications?  Who is expected to live in the new buildings and will they all be residential? Which places will be darkened by shadows and how much more traffic would we have?

What we should do: The DTES must say “no” to the extra height proposed in this review.  We don’t want to consider any extra height until we have a plan for a low income neighbourhood.  In addition, we shouldn’t accept any extra height until we have a clear study to show the social and economic impact of the extra height on the low income DTES community.  We can go to the rest of the city’s workshops and say “no.”  We can say “no” at this meeting.  And we can organize to go to city council and say “no,” when the planners take their report to city council.

What does “affordable” housing mean and who is “low income”?

Prepared by Jean Swanson, CCAP, Jan, 2009 – Contact 604-839-0379

When talking about what kind of housing we need in the Downtown Eastside, many people say we need housing that is affordable to low income people, or to the working poor.  But we don’t have an agreed upon definition of who these people are or what they can afford for housing.

If we want to encourage housing for low income people and the working poor in the DTES, we need to know realistically if the market will really be able to build this housing or if we need government help.

To figure this out, we need to answer some questions.  Here is my attempt:

How does the government define low income? The federal government uses the Low Income Cutoff Line to define “low income.”  The 2006 LICOs for a city are

1 person            $21,199
2 persons          $26,392
3 persons          $32,446
4 persons          $39,393

What percentage of income should people pay for housing? BC Housing uses 30%, which is generally accepted as the highest percentage of income that should be paid on shelter costs.

How much income do people on welfare, disability, seniors pensions and minimum wage, a low income line wage, and various other wages get, and how much rent can they afford per month?

Welfare for a single person:  $610 in total; $375 designated for shelter
Disability for a single person:  $906 in total; $375 for shelter
Minimum government pension for seniors:  about $1000 in total; $333 for shelter
Minimum wage ($8 an hour, full time, full year):  $1387 in total; $416 for shelter
Wage required to meet LICO maximum for single person ($10.19 an hour):  $1767 in total; $530 for shelter
$15 an hour wage:  $2600 in total; $780 for shelter
$20 an hour wage:  $3467 in total; $1040 for shelter

How much rent is required to pay for a 400 square foot market unit (for a single person) in the DTES? According to pro forma work by the Building Community Society, about $1200 a month.

What wage would be required to afford $1200 a month for a singles unit? $23.08 per hour.  Couples and families would require larger units.

What is the lowest wage you could have and afford to buy a condo in the DTES? DTES condos have been advertised at $300,000 to $500,000 for a one bedroom.  Assuming the buyer had a $50,000 down payment (unlikely for low income people), a 30 year mortgage and paid a 6% interest rate, mortgage payments would be $1499 a month for the $300,000 one bedroom condo.  Monthly condo fees would be extra, say $300 a month.  To afford $1800 a month on shelter at 30% of income, a person would have to earn $60,000 a year or two people would have to be satisfied with a one bedroom unit and earn $30,000 each.  This would break down to $28.85 an hour for one earner or $14.42 an hour each for 2 people.

DTES residents and groups respond to VPD business plan changes


Speakers from the Downtown Eastside Women Centre Power to Women Group, DTES Neighbourhood House, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, Carnegie Community Action Project, as well as lawyers David Eby and Douglas King of Pivot spoke on the issue at a news conference at Pigeon Park.

The changes to the police plan include removal of the provisions to increase the number of tickets as well as removal of the specific targets of street checks in the Downtown Eastside. The revised plan was adopted by the police board on Wednesday March 18th.

“While these changes have come about as a direct result of all the pressure and protest by groups such as ours, we are not at all satisfied.

These are cosmetic changes that do little to change the wave of street sweeps and police harassment that DTES residents have been unfairly subjected to,” said Karen Lahay, member of the DTES Women Centre Power to Women Group.

According to Harsha Walia, Project Coordinator at the Downtown Eastside Womens’ Centre, “The plan still solely and disproportionately targets The DTES with explicit plans to eliminate street vending, to continue with a ticketing campaign, and to increase police presence. These are still street sweeps fuelled by the 2010 Olympics. They are cleverly word-smithing in light of the outrage, but nothing in the plan suggests an actual change in overall strategy and practice.”

“Removing language without changing the offensive policies the language describes is an insult to those who want better for our homeless population,” said David Eby, acting Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. It’s not enough to simply pretend in the Business plan that this crackdown is not continuing.”
In the year 2008, over 1,100 city bylaw tickets and over 800 provincial statute tickets were issued in the Downtown Eastside.


City Council gets a titch tougher on hotels

City Council has told its staff to take one of the worst slum hotels in the Downtown Eastside to court to try to get an injunction to improve maintenance standards.  They haven’t revealed which hotel it will be.  The decision came at a Council meeting on March 26.

Council also asked staff to report back to them in 90 days on two other possible ways of improving conditions in hotels:  assessing the idea of mandatory 3rd party management; and an amendment to the Single Room Occupancy Bylaw to define room closures as conversions.  This last change was suggested by Pivot lawyer Laura Track as a way of keeping hotel owners from closing rooms rather than fixing them up.

CCAP’s Wendy Pedersen told council at the meeting that they needed to get a plan to replace all 5000 SRO’s with good, self contained new units in the area for SRO residents.

Streams of Justice “quests” for new social housing


Here’s the report that Dave Diewert wrote following the Streams of Justice action in March to draw attention to the need to fund social housing at 12 city-owned sites below. Just after this action, the Province announced funding for 4 out of 12 sites (1338 Seymour, 188 E 1st, 3212 Dunbar and 525 Abbott). They also announced funding for 2 social housing projects that were cancelled in 2001: 1005 Station St., and 339 W Pender.

Hey everyone,

Our 4 day Quest for Social Housing on the 12 city sites action is over. It was an interesting enterprise, for sure. It started with a press conference at our first site on Tuesday morning, where we drew attention to the lack of construction on any of the sites despite promises otherwise, and announced our intention to travel by foot to each of the 12 sites in search of signs of construction. Thanks to those who came out for that part of the action, and apologies to those who missed it due to deficient communication on my part.

We then set off to 3 other sites that day. Meanwhile, at 1:00 pm on the same day, the Premier and the Housing Minister made an announcement that 6 of 14 sites (including 4 of the 12 sites we were to visit) were ready for construction and funding was in place. I had a conversation with Rich Coleman, the Housing Minister, and he said that they would be underway, with shovels in the ground, in the next few months. These two things happening on the same day was an interesting convergence, and made for some extra media attention.

We camped that night at a site in Yaletown, and decided to hit the remaining 8 of our sites all on the next day. So on Wednesday a band of 10 or so of us walked from Yaletown, through downtown, over the Burrard Street bridge, out to 16th and Dunbar; and from there along Broadway to Fraser Street, and then down to 1st and Main. We carried signs, passed out leaflets, and put up signs on every one of the 12 sites. It was a long day of walking, but we accomplished our mission, ending at the final site around 6 pm. We had supper together there, and then headed home.

Thanks for everyone’s support in various ways. It was a worthwhile event, I think. One never quite knows how to evaluate these things, but we helped to raise the issue of the absolute necessity of new, permanent social housing.

Well that’s the update. Hope you are all well. peace … dave

A Small Mountain Town Fights Gentrification

Robert William Sandford lives in a small town in the Rocky Mountains. Long-time residents of his town are being forced out of the community because wealthy people are buying houses and condos there, and it is becoming too expensive for local people to live in their own homes. Sandford was so distressed and angry at this threat to his small mountain community that he wrote a book called “The Weekender Effect – Hyperdevelopment in Mountain Towns.” (1) He dedicated the book, “To people everywhere who have sacrificed socially and economically for the places in which they live and to which their identity is inextricably tied.”

Many of the new wealthy people only live in the mountain town on weekends, or for part of the year. That’s why Sandford called his book “The Weekender Effect.” Because the process of gentrification happened so fast, and was so upsetting, he added the phrase “Hyperdevelopment in Mountain Towns.”

The Downtown Eastside is like a small town. Adrienne Clarkson saw that immediately when she visited our community while she was the Governor-General of Canada. We know what Robert Sandford meant when he said that the local residents of his town didn’t want to be “dispossessed by those who would buy us out and take away from us everything that has meaning in relation to where and how we live.” (Weekender Effect, p.23) Sandford has lots of advice in his book for communities fighting gentrification. I will focus on four points that he makes, and show how people in the Downtown Eastside have been thinking along similar lines.

(1) Remember your history. Remember the personal stories. Write down your story. Remember, also, the history of our community. We are part of the inspiring Downtown Eastside struggle for dignity and human rights by the many groups that have lived here. That’s one reason why the Downtown Eastside is the soul of Vancouver. Diane Wood has edited a small book of poems called “The Soul of Vancouver – Voices From The Downtown Eastside,” and Paul Taylor, editor of the important Carnegie Newsletter, has edited a powerful collection of Downtown Eastside writing called “The Heart of the Community – The Best of the Carnegie Newsletter.”

(2) Take the threat of corporate real estate development (gentrification) seriously. We do take it seriously in the Downtown Eastside. That threat has united many groups that fight for the human rights of low income residents. I have never seen so much unity in the Downtown Eastside as there is now. We know that not only homes are destroyed with gentrification. A circle of friends is destroyed, a neighbourhood, a small world in itself, a world that people who are dispossessed cannot rebuild, Citizens become refugees in their own land.

(3) Beware of collaboration with profit-driven corporate development. Of course, we must always try to start an honest dialogue, but Robert Sandford said that collaboration with the development industry was difficult because “collaboration processes employed in the planning and development of the town I (Sandford) live in paralyzed any hope of a tenable future for locals by killing any practical vision of the future that was not consistent with…the growth proposed by the largely outside development community.” (Weekender Effect, p.68)

Sadly, we know the truth of Sandford’s statement. James Lorimer alerted us to the danger of unrestrained corporate development as early as 1978. He wrote in his book, “The Developers,” that “Whenever there has been a choice to make between providing people with what they want and need on the one hand, and pursuing a strategy that would increase the short term and long term profits of the development corporations on the other, the developers have chosen to pursue their own interests…The consequences of this arrangement, however, is that the corporate city is designed not to provide a humane and liveable city, but rather to maximize the profits to be made from urban land and to capture as much control over the process of urban growth as possible for the development industry.” (2)

(4) You must put into words the vision you have for your community. Sandford saw the need for a language that would defend the community by articulating what is important about it, its way of life, its hope for the future, and the effect gentrification was having on it. He felt that his mountain town didn’t find that language until it was almost too late, and he thought that the local politicians were helpless because they, too, didn’t have the language to describe what was happening to the town with regard to hyperactive corporate development. Sandford’s book, “The Weekender Effect,” is an excellent contribution to finding language that will help small communities protect themselves from the monster of unrestrained gentrification.

In the Downtown Eastside we have been searching for a language, and an analysis, that will protect our small low income community from profit-driven developer interests. The Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) has been doing visioning workshops. The annual Heart of the City Festival shows Vancouver citizens the creative and vibrant culture of the Downtown Eastside. The citizens’ organizations in our community, such as the Carnegie Community Centre Asociation (CCCA), the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association (DERA), the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, PIVOT, WISH, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, the Aboriginal Front Door, the Carnegie Community Action Project, the City Wide Housing Coalition, and many others, all demonstrate the courage, endurance, caring and inclusiveness of the Downtown Eastside. Our local politicians, Jenny Kwan MLA, and Libby Davies MP, know the language that will defend our low income community. We need to take our vision to all the citizens of Vancouver, to all the citizens of Canada, and to all the citizens of the world.

In writing his book, Robert William Sandford was fighting back. He wants all the people who live in communities under the threat of gentrification to fight back, and to preserve what is meaningful about their way of life. Like Bruce Eriksen, Robert Sandford never, ever, gives up. Check out the library to see if his book is there. – Sandy Cameron

(1) The Weekender Effect – Hyperdevelopment in Mountain Towns, by Robert William Sandford, pub. by Rocky Mountain Books, 2008.
(2) The Developers, by James Lorimer, pub. by James Lorimer & Co., 1978, page 79.