City to study impact of Woodwards

In January the city passed a motion saying “that a social impact study be conducted to assess the effect on the existing low-income community of new developments in the historic area and where opportunities for enhanced affordability and live-ability may be achieved.”

OK, this may sound good, but what will the study look at exactly?  Why did they agree to do this?

Jean, Hugh, Gena, Stacey and Wendy went to city hall recently to present CCAP’s draft vision for the DTES to city planners. Photo by Gena Thompson

As you may remember, in January CCAP and others pushed hard to hold off new condos in the western part of the DTES until the future of the low-income community is secured.  We also called for the city to do a study on the impact of Woodward’s and other new condos on the low-income community.  We said if they did the study after approving condos it would be like measuring the water in the Titanic while it’s sinking.  But Vision, the majority party of city council, voted to allow developers to build up to seven new 15 story towers (probably mostly for condos). We don’t know when the study will happen, but CCAP is bugging the city to make it happen soon.  Maybe we can slow the sinking ship down with this study.  It may help us save the next areas from rapid market development – the Oppenheimer district and Hastings Corridor which are up for review next year.

A few weeks ago, CCAP met with city staff and told them what we would like to see in this study.  We said it should answer this question:

What has been the social and economic impact of the Woodwards development and other market housing development in the DTES on the tenure and assets of the low-income and Aboriginal DTES community?

We reminded staff of the 11  DTES neighbourhood assets that are defined in CCAP’s mapping report:

  1. Social housing that provides a stable base for thousands of residents;
  2. The rich cultural and community heritage;
  3. Necessities that are cheap or free and nearby;
  4. Health and social services that are close, available, needed and appreciated;
  5. The many places to volunteer and participate;
  6. Green spaces that help residents make a connection to nature and have become spiritually important;
  7. Many residents have empathy for homeless people and people with health and/or addiction issues;
  8. Residents feel accepted and at home in the DTES;
  9. The sense of community is strong;
  10. Because the DTES is a poor community and people experience many human rights violations, many residents work for social justice.

Plus, after feedback from the community, CCAP added another asset:

11.   Arts practices and programs that involve many community members.

CCAP told staff that “tenure” relates to the ability of low-income and Aboriginal residents who depend on welfare, disability, OAP/GIS and low wage and/or part time work to continue to live in the DTES community.

CCAP wants this study to investigate questions such as:

  • Are rents in privately owned residential hotels still affordable to low-income DTES residents who depend on welfare, disability and OAP/GIS for their income?
  • Do new stores and services opening up in the DTES serve DTES residents who depend on welfare, disability, OAP/GIS?
  • Do low-income residents benefit from having more condos in the DTES?  If so, how?
  • How will the assets of the low income DTES community likely be affected by market development?
  • Are some hotels upgrading in anticipation of tenants who can afford higher rents than current low-income DTES residents?

There are no guarantees that the city will use CCAP’s terms for their study.  But we hope they will adopt it.  It is really important that the city understand the impact of condos on low-income DTES residents before they approve more.

Over 80 homeless got homes because they camped on condo site

58 West Hastings, the giant empty lot across from Army and Navy, has seen a lot of action in the last few months.  Not with bulldozers breaking ground for luxury condos that Concord Pacific plans to build on that site, but with tent cities.

In February, homeless campers and their supporters set up a makeshift Olympic Tent Village and by the end of the Olympics, about 40 homeless people were housed along with the promise that supporters would pull out from the site.  But even though the kitchen, stage and signs came down, that wasn’t the end.  The campfire kept burning and the homeless kept coming.

A few weeks later, 10 big notices were posted along the fence by the City of Vancouver and Concord Pacific.  They said that the owner, Concord Pacific, needed to remove campers from the property according to city bylaws.  Thus began the negotiations to clear the new group of homeless campers from the site.

In exchange for agreeing to move everyone off the site, the Portland Hotel Society found rooms and apartments for virtually all homeless campers in one intense day; 40 people got housed in total. One woman, who in my view was one of the most stable campers there, refused to take an apartment and a few days later was “committed” by a doctor, taken away by police to St Paul’s but was immediately released as doctors at St Paul’s did not agree with the assessment.

Other than getting a few good apartments, did anything else good come out of this?  Concord Pacific may be getting the idea that it is not a good idea to build luxury homes in a neighbourhood where people are living in tents.

Another benefit –the homeless in Vancouver are more emboldened to speak up for themselves.  In the lead up to move out day, the word spread quickly and a few homeless people from shelters joined the camp in the hopes they would get inside too.  Although some may think this is opportunistic and unfair, I say it’s a really good sign. Tenting is seen as a pretty effective strategy now.  Camp in the open, bring in the media, work with supporters and bingo, BC Housing takes action.  Homeless people can take bold steps to push our governments to deliver some short term relief.

When shelters close on April 30th, perhaps we’ll see this lesson applied again.  First United, the Aboriginal shelter, the Stanley New Fountain and the Granville Street Shelter are all slated to close because of lack of support from Housing Minister Coleman.  Well, keep your eye out for more tents.  And watch for your opportunity to lend a hand.  We may need your help.

CCAP presents vision to city staff

For the last 2 years CCAP has been visioning, mapping and planning with low income DTES residents to figure out what they want for their community.  It is almost complete.  Watch for it on our blog next month.  Meanwhile Jean and Wendy from CCAP, Gena from the Carnegie Association, Hugh from VANDU and Stacey from the DTES Neighbourhood House presented a power point on our vision and the actions necessary to improve the DTES from a residents’ perspective to a team of city staff who work on DTES issues. The meeting went quite well.  We got some pointers and hopefully helped them understand more fully that the DTES is a real community with many important assets.  See our power point here.  We’re hoping our newly formed Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council will, with its strong basis of unity and unique elected representation and structure, will work to implement this vision.

Poverty Olympics big hit locally and internationally

Photo of Muriel (in character) featured in Globe and Mail article called: “The grinch steals the games.”

Thanks to the nearly 100 volunteers of the 2010 Poverty Olympics. What a success! Volunteers pushed (and kayaked) the torch from Langley to Vancouver’s Poverty Olympics opening ceremonies, made placards, practiced and performed in skits, wrote scripts, made props, made buttons, wrote fact sheets about poverty, shopped for costumes, made sandwiches and a fantastic cockroach cake and so much more. Special thanks Old Hands and Robert Bonner for opening up the games, to Trish Garner and Rider Cooey from Raise the Rates who organized the Province wide torch relay. Also thanks to Bernie Williams and Gladys Radek and others who drummed the Poverty Olympics torch over the Lion’s Gate Bridge and to VANDU who lit our torch at the Japanese Hall.

And a special thank you to the groups and individuals that performed: Streams of Justice, CCAP Action group, Four Sisters kids and the Power of Women group, plus Hendrik Buene and Muriel Williams, Gena Thompson, Priscillia Tait and Bob Sarti, our wonderful mascots and MC’s. None of this could have happened without the behind the scenes work of Jean Swanson, Rose Keurdian and Donald McDonald, our fearless stage managers. It was truly a community effort.

Not only was the Poverty Olympics fun, there was a big benefit. Our point of view was heard across Canada. The international media covered our issues too.

The German coverage was exceptional – right on message about the shocking problem of poverty in a rich country like Canada.

For about 2 weeks leading up to the Poverty Olympics, we met with reporters from around the world: Sweden, England, Finland, Germany, France, and Japan to name a few. My Aunt who just lives up the street here, turned on the BBC one day and saw us there. My one friend, who lives in France, said she heard our message there a few times.

In Canada, friends in Toronto, Ottawa called to say the message was coming out loud and clear. A young woman in Gatineau Quebec found CCAP’s phone number and then started a petition at her college to stop the Assistance to shelter act and to get a National Housing Program. So we had some of the world abuzz for a while. Way to go Poverty Olympics!!

Sorry, bad news, more condos on the way

More condos for the Downtown Eastside. That’s what City Council decided after hearing speakers until late at night on Jan 22. “I’m predicting that more people will be pushed out of hotels and become homeless, and that some of the good qualities of our low income community are now even more at risk,” said Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP).

The Council decision came after many Downtown Eastsiders and supporters called on them to have an impact study and plan for the neighbourhood before allowing more high buildings. Council did actually agree to an impact study but not before the extra building height is allowed. Council also moved a step closer to funding a local area planning process in the neighbourhood but there is no certainty whether or not such a process will work in the favour of the low-income community. Council made its decisions about extra height after hearing a report from their staff on the Historic Area Height Review. This area includes Gastown, Victory Square, Chinatown and the Main and Hastings area. The report called for 3 towers of about 15 stories on specific sites. It also wanted Council to allow developers about two extra floors of height in the Main and Hastings and Chinatown South areas.

CCAP opposed the increased height because it will bring more condos to the neighbourhood, creating ripple effects of higher property values, higher rents, stores that serve richer residents, displacement of low income people and a loss of the low income community’s assets. CCAP has been researching the good things about the DTES community and found that people like the sense of community, empathy for suffering, caring, lack of judgment, services for low income people, and social housing.

Our Member of Parliament, Libby Davies, sent a letter to Council supporting CCAP’s position. DTES resident Lane Walker told Council that “Displacement is a reality. It’s not just developers and views but actual homes that people are losing.”

Harsha Walia of the Power of Women also supported CCAP’s position, saying many housing units had been lost to rent increases and tourist conversions.

Donald MacDonald, a DTES resident, told Council that he was making plans to deal with homelessness because the building he lived in was up for sale. “My real concern is homelessness,” he said. “The poor didn’t create the housing shortage.”

Hugh Lampkin, Vice President of VANDU, told council that he had “never been to a place that had the level of empathy” of the DTES. Hugh talked about the place where he lives where rents have risen to $500 a month, $550 with a washroom, and an extra $15 for cable. He said he was opposed to increased heights “until we deal with the housing” for low income people.

Matthew Matthew, president of the Carnegie Centre Community Association told Council that the new height wouldn’t help the low income community that lives in the DTES now. He was also concerned because there was no plan.

Council actually decided to allow up to 5 additional towers of around 15 stories than their staff recommended. Two of the original 3 towers proposed by staff were also approved.

“We’re not giving up,” said Pedersen. “We need to keep pressing our governments to build more affordable housing in the DTES. Our low income community has a right to exist and work for improvements without being pushed out.”

Bob Rennie, DTES condo king, connects Olympics and real estate

While most people think the Olympics is about athletes from around the world competing with each other, I’m discovering that folks in the real estate business consider the Olympics to be a $6 billion marketing campaign designed to sell Vancouver homes and condos to rich foreigners.

According to Bob Rennie, Vancouver’s Condo King, who sold out the condos at Woodwards, “Vancouver has become a resort city where rich foreigners live a few months per year… It’s a trend, whether you like it or not, the Olympics is likely to accelerate.”

“With NBC and other broadcasters set to beam images of Vancouver around the world, the city will be promoted as never before,” Rennie explained in a Vancouver Sun article.  In an earlier, January, article in Xinhua, Rennie speculated that people who see the Olympics on TV will go from saying, “I want to spend two to five months in Vancouver’ to ‘I want to send my children to school here.'”

And way back in 2002 Frank O’Brien wrote in the Western Investor, June 2002, “The real purpose of the 2010 Olympic bid is to seduce the provincial and federal governments and long suffering taxpayers into footing a billion dollar bill to pave the path for future real estate sales.”

In the same article O’Brien quotes Jack Poole, real estate developer and the late chair of the 2010 Bid Corporation, “If the Olympic bid wasn’t happening we would have to invent something.”

O’Brien went on to say, “It is hard to imagine any fantasy that fits better than the Olympic bid if you are into real estate development.”

According to Bob Rennie, “everything will be alright.” What do you think?This slogan is lit up in lights at the back of his private art gallery in Chinatown.

Just as the Olympics were starting, the Vancouver Sun and Province published 17 days, the best guide to the games as an insert in its daily paper.  One section of the booklet included “17 reasons to live in Vancouver or buy real estate here.”  Almost all of the 17 reasons were designed to appeal to rich foreigners:  Vancouver is the “bridge between Asia and the rest of North America”, Vancouver has direct flights to 110 cities, Vancouver is a top livable city, Vancouver has stable property values; it has skiing, sport fishing, sailing, and golf.  And, get this, Vancouver has “constrained land supply.”  This means there is “limited space for new development” and, I assume, property prices can go nowhere but up.

Another Olympic insert in the Vancouver Sun was a special “2010 commemorative edition of Westcoast Homes and Design.”  It included an article advising foreigners to buy real estate in Vancouver, saying “you get to keep most of the profit.”  One section of the article pointed out that all an investor had to do was fill out a form saying “I expect $2000 a month, my expenses are $1900 a month.  My net rental income is expected to be only $100. Then you only need to pay $25 per month to the … taxman.”

Many of the things the government spent money on for the Olympics will also help increase the value of property or add amenities that rich property owners might like.  The nearly billion dollar Sea to Sky Highway upgrade, ostensibly for the Olympics will also make land between Vancouver and Pemberton more attractive for development because getting to and from Vancouver will be faster.

Faux Condo King angers some residents when he shows up to push for a condo tower at Hastings and Carrall (BC Electric Building – Centre A). City council approved the new height shortly after. (Blackbird photo)

The $2 billion transit line to the Airport will be handy for business people and part time residents who commute to other countries.  The almost $1 billion Trade and Convention Centre will also serve this crowd.

I wish this was all just real estate hype, but fear that it’s not. I don’t recall having an election where we voted to make Vancouver into an “urban resort.”  I can’t remember ever voting for the type of city where even policemen, firemen and nurses can’t afford to buy homes, as Rennie admits.  And, in a time of global warming, it’s not really a great idea to be promoting international commuting on carbon spewing airplanes.

What does this have to do with the Downtown Eastside?  As the value of property increases, more low income people will be pushed out…. unless we can get more social housing built.

The Olympics were bad for low income people because the money spent on the games could have ended homelessness and reduced poverty a lot. They were bad because we’re already paying for them with cuts to crucial services.  But who of us non realtors knew that the one of the biggest impacts would be pushing up land prices and pushing tenants out of their own communities?