Social housing reality check

Ministry’s own service plans show few
net new units since 2006

September 13, 2010
Canadian Centre Policy Alternatives
Press Release

A new report shows that despite some positive recent developments on rental assistance and homelessness, BC’s progress in building new social housing units has been minimal.
Unpacking the Housing Numbers: How Much New Social Housing is BC Building? is being released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Social Planning and Research Council of BC. The authors conducted a detailed examination of BC Housing’s service plans for 2006 to 2011.
The report finds that while the number of households assisted by provincial housing programs increased by 11,530 since 2006, most of this assistance does not represent actual new social housing units. Of the 11,530 additional households assisted:

  • 63% (7,270 households) represents rental assistance to families through the Rental Assistance Program, while another 1,010 are individuals assisted through the Homeless Rent Supplement.
  • Another 1,420 of the total increase are new emergency shelter beds (not housing units).
  • 1,550 of the “new” supportive housing units for homeless people with mental health and addiction problems are in purchased SRO hotels (renovations/replacements of existing housing rather than additional low-income housing supply).

While there has been growth in some types of social housing, in particular supportive housing for the homeless and housing for frail seniors, there has been a larger decrease in traditional low-income housing units.

In fact, the government’s own data indicate an overall net increase of only 280 new housing units over the past five years, a sobering and concerning finding.

“The province has developed some good initiatives to address homelessness and the lack of affordable housing,” says Lorraine Copas, Executive Director of the Social Planning and Research Council (SPARC), and co-author of the study. “Unfortunately, the numbers show us that more is needed.”

Jean Swanson, with Vancouver’s Carnegie Community Action Project, welcomes the report. “Working in the Downtown Eastside I can see that hundreds of people are homeless in spite of government announcements and re-announcements of social housing. This report tells us the real numbers and validates our call for more social housing for low-income people.”

“Between the mid 1970s and early 1990s, with the help of the federal government, BC created 1,000 to 1,500 new units of social housing per year,” says Seth Klein, co-author of the report. “Based on government figures, we calculate that BC could build 2,000 units of housing per year for about $500 million. To me, that seems like a pretty affordable price for ending the homeless crisis in our society.”

For information or interviews with the authors, contact Sarah Leavitt at or 604-801-5121 x233.

Mayor and Council: Will you really not buy land for social housing in the DTES?

by Wendy Pedersen

On September 21st, I was invited to an interview on the CBC Afternoon Show with host Stephen Quinn about the results of CCAP’s hotel study. Coun. Kerry Jang was lined up to be interviewed after me on the same topic. I said that the most important thing the city can do to help DTES residents is buy land in the DTES and designate it for social housing. At the end of my interview, just as I was getting cut off, I said: “Stephen, please ask Coun. Jang if the city will buy land for social housing in the DTES!”

So, Stephen paused and said, “Welcome Coun. Jang, what do you make of this idea about buying land for social housing in the DTES.” Then I wrote on my scrap piece of paper, 4 reasons, according to Coun. Jang, for NOT buying and designating land for social housing in the DTES:
1.It is too much of a drain on city resources;
2.The city must focus on building a spectrum of affordable housing;
3.Commitments from the senior governments must be made first before the city can buy and designate land for social housing; and,
4.There are not many sites to buy in the DTES.

Since I didn’t get a chance to respond on the radio, please allow me to get this off my chest here now:

1. A drain on city resources??!! How can saving lives be a drain on resources? And if the moral outrage doesn’t convince them, then consider that land is an asset the city can’t lose on.

2. Build all types of housing for all incomes: The previous council used to talk about this trickle-down theory a lot. Build cheaper condos and that will free up rentals for the poor. But, there is a real, massive, urgent need to build housing for people with the lowest income. People who can afford about $700 a month, like at the American Hotel, have a lot more options than people who can afford $375 a month. This also ignores the bad ripple effects of market housing: more speculation, higher land costs, higher rents, displacement, more exclusive stores, more poor-bashing etc.

3. We need senior government partnerships first: No, the city must buy the land FIRST and then the city and citizens can organize a campaign to get the senior governments to build it. That is how it was done before. That is the only way it can be done now. Cameron Gray, the retired Director of the Housing Centre, told me before he retired that he wanted the city to buy and designate for housing another 14 sites and staff can get them ready for the partnerships.

4. Jang’s last complaint: there’s no land for sale. Well, why did the city recently turn down the opportunity to buy the Pantages Theatre for housing, as we learned from former Carnegie Centre Director Michael Clague? There are many sites to buy in the DTES and the land is cheaper here than anywhere else in Vancouver. And even if it is getting pricey, we’re worth it, no matter what the cost.

You may be thinking that hey, Coun. Jang is only one city councillor. One person can’t decide the fate of a neighbourhood. Well, read the article about the American Hotel in this newsletter issue. Every city councillor, except Coun. Woodsworth of COPE, talked about the need to “address the whole spectrum of affordability” in the Downtown Eastside. Even Coun. Cadman of COPE said “he’s not holding his breath” for money from the senior governments for housing which means he sees a few crumbs here and there as the way to go.

From this CBC interview and from the comments made by mayor and council at the American Hotel meeting, I take this all to be a strong statement from City Council that they do not intend to buy property for 100% social housing projects in the DTES. Vision Councillors: please correct me if I’m wrong by buying some DTES land for social housing.

Council approves gentrification project at American Hotel

Only 6 out of 42 rooms at the American Hotel will rent for $400 a month (for 10 years). Remaining rooms will rent for whatever the owner can get – possibly in the $700 range. That is what city councillors (except Coun. Ellen Woodsworth) voted in favour of at city hall last Thursday, September 23rd.

The history of the American Hotel is not very pretty. It was notorious for bad living conditions and its raucous bar. But at least there were 39 rooms renting to DTES residents for around the welfare shelter rate. In 2006, DERA held a rally to protest its closure and blamed the evictions on the speculation and gentrification caused by the Olympics. Now the new owner, Stephen Lippman, will re-open the rooms and the bar. Lippman owns the Golden Crown Hotel too, which rents for in the $600 a month range and he is rumoured to now own other properties in the area too, like Save On Meats.

We learned some new things at the American Hotel council meeting. When the city staff tried to negotiate with the owner for some “affordability” in exchange for the permit to open the rooms and the bar, they had no idea how much profit the owner could make. Coun. Woodsworth asked why the extra $25 charged over welfare rate for the 6 rooms. Can’t he afford 6 x $25? David Beattie, a volunteer in the DTES, picked up on this in his speech to council and said “the bar will have 193 seats? The bar at that size will be a licence to print money. So wondering how it is possible to have only 6 out of the 44 units.”

Three others spoke against the project. Wendy Pedersen presented CCAP’s point of view and said, “the American Hotel is a gentrification project. In order to live in most of the rooms at the American a person may need to make about $30,000 a year in order to not be living in core need. Minimum wage is about $16,000 a year and welfare $7,300 a year. These rooms are not affordable.” She said the city should count all hotel rent increases above $375 in all DTES hotels as losses instead of secure low-income units. And that the city can compensate for gentrification projects like this by buying 5 properties a year for 10 years and designating it for housing and holding off on new “market” projects for that time period.

Tami Starlight, for the DTES Neighbourhood Council said to council: “6 units of low-income housing is woefully inadequate. This is more gentrification in the DTES. There should not be a single condo built until there is not a single person who is homeless and all our hotels are replaced. And….nothing about us without us.”

Dave Murray, of VANDU and CCAP, made a great point that other landlords will see what happens at the American Hotel and want to empty their buildings too. “The city will let them get away with it. It’s a bad precedent.”

Coun. Kerry Jang argued it is better to have six rooms renting near $375 than none. He said this is a “one-off” it won’t happen again. He also said that “folks with different socio-economic backgrounds will have someplace to live.” The Mayor said the plan for the American was “better than turning it into condos.” (Of course this is nonsense – city hall has a wide array of zoning and design tools to shape development as it sees fit.) Coun. Deal said “we need to look after the needs of the full spectrum of affordability.” (New code for no more social housing projects coming to the DTES.) Even Councillor Cadman of COPE said “he’s not holding his breath” for money from the senior governments for housing and 6 rooms are better than leaving it empty. (This means he agrees a few crumbs for the poor here and there as the way to go). Coun. Reimer said we could talk about the bigger questions CCAP and DNC raised about homelessness, buying property etc. at a review of their housing strategy later this fall (city says fall, likely means spring).

At some point, Coun. Reimer started to say something about considering everyone’s needs including the desperately poor and Diane le Claire, Carnegie volunteer, yelled from the back of the chambers “the desperately poor are committing suicide. You are claiming you are trying to save low-income housing? And you are allowing private development? What kind of claim is that?”

And then, shortly after, mayor and council, except for Councillor Woodsworth, approved it.

Pushed Out – CCAP’s new report on hotels in the DTES

cover image

For immediate release
September 21, 2010

Pushed out of the Downtown Eastside by high rents

A new study by the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) says that seniors on basic pensions and people on welfare can only afford 12% of the privately owned SRO hotel rooms in the Downtown Eastside (down from 29% last year).

Called Pushed Out, escalating rents in the Downtown Eastside, CCAP’s third annual hotel report says high rents in privately owned hotels are pushing out low-income people and could be responsible for an increase in homelessness and for a lot of street vending and survival so-called “crimes.”

The report is based on a survey of 90 privately owned and run hotels by CCAP staff and volunteers who got information from hotels with 93% of the privately owned rooms in the Downtown Eastside.

“Gentrification is pushing up rents in the cheapest accommodation in Vancouver,” said CCAP organizer and report co-author Wendy Pedersen. “The number of hotel rooms where the lowest rent is $500 a month or more shot up over 200% from 272 rooms last year to 634 rooms this year. And more than half of all the privately owned rooms rent for
over $425 a month, $50 more than a person on welfare, disability, or senior can afford.”

Newly opened provincially owned hotels plus new low-income housing at Woodwards doesn’t make up for the number of units lost from closure and high rents.

While some new social housing units should be opening in the next three years, “At the current rate it will take the city 42 years to implement their policy of replacing the SRO hotel rooms with self contained social housing,” said Pedersen. “But absolutely nothing is planned for after 2013 so it could take much longer.”

CCAP calls on the city to buy and set aside five lots a year in the DTES for social housing. CCAP joins with numerous other groups calling for a federal provincial social housing program that builds 20,000 units of housing a year across Canada.

Other findings of the report include:
• The number of hotels that rent all their rooms for $375 or less fell from 19 hotels with 777 rooms in 2009 to 12 hotels with 362 rooms in 2010, a loss of seven hotels with 415 rooms;
• The lowest rent in over half (56%) of the hotels that CCAP got rent information from is $425 a month or more. In other words, 28 hotels with 1689 rooms rent at $425 or more;
• Rents in 17 of these 28 hotels with 1159 rooms start at $450 or more;
• Between 2009 and 2010 the number of hotels where the lowest rent is $500 or more increased by over 200% from 3 hotels with 272 rooms to 11 hotels with 634 rooms;
• There were only two vacancies in hotels with rents at or under $375. Last year there were four;
• Fifteen hotels charging higher rents had vacancies;
• Two hotels with 67 rooms have closed since CCAP’s 2009 report. These are the Argyle (43 rooms) and Lucky Rooms (24 rooms).
• Two SROs re-opened this year, the Persepolis (27 rooms) at $400 a month and Pender Place (23 units) at $600 to $700 a month;

See all CCAP’s reports at:

Community Vision tackles Downtown Eastside stereotypes and gentrification

For Immediate Release: July 20, 2010

The low-income community in the Downtown Eastside has a right to exist and seek improvements for itself.

That’s the main point of a new Vision for the Downtown Eastside called Assets to Action, Community Vision for Change in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The Vision was developed over two years with input from a massive sample of 1200 Downtown Eastside (DTES) residents, in co-operation with many DTES groups. The process, led by the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), included Visioning workshops with about 300 people, a questionnaire with 655 people, mapping workshops with 200 people, three days of work with 44 low-income community leaders drawing out the Vision, Values and Actions from the previous work, distribution of the draft report to numerous DTES residents and groups for feedback, incorporation of the feedback into the final document, and three published interim reports. CCAP proposes that the Vision be the foundation and guide for future development in the DTES.

“Our Vision starts from the fact that there are lots of good things about our community,” said CCAP organizer and report co-author, Wendy Pedersen. “Our community assets include a sense of community and belonging, life saving social and health services, many chances to volunteer and contribute, a lack of judgment, and connection to the cultural heritage of the neighbourhood. The wider society stigmatizes many DTES residents because of race, gender, sexual orientation, addiction, mental or physical health and poverty. But in the DTES people who experience discrimination are the majority. They are not marginal. They feel accepted and don’t always have to defend their situation to others.”

“With this Vision low-income residents are saying they want to have more control over their own community,” said Phoenix Winter, one of the participants, and a board member of the Carnegie Community Centre Association. “We don’t want others coming here and telling us what’s wrong with us and what we need. We have good ideas about solving problems ourselves.”

Actions needed to implement the Community Vision include more social housing, reducing poverty, slowing gentrification until low-income residents have decent housing and low-income community assets are secure. The Vision also calls for treatment on demand for people with addictions, more harm reduction services and replacing the current illegal drug market with a regulated legal market based on public health and human rights principles. See page 8 and 9 for a full list of Actions. “While government is needed to get some of these changes,” said Pedersen, “residents are already working on others like a DTES street market and expanding wireless internet to the whole DTES.”

“Slowing gentrification is crucial to implement this report,” said Pedersen. “Low income people are being pushed out by property value increases. Only 12% of privately owned SRO hotel rooms are now renting for the welfare shelter allowance or less. That’s why we are calling on the Mayor and Council to do three important things for DTES residents: 1) Purchase five lots a year for social housing in the DTES for the next ten years; 2) Use its zoning and planning tools to slow gentrification until existing residents and homeless people have decent self-contained social housing, and our community assets are secure; 3) And use this Vision as the basis of a DTES strategy for change.” said Pedersen.

To see CCAP’s Vision report, go to

What others have said about CCAP’s Vision report:

“I believe “Assets to Action” is a magnificent document. We have never seen such a comprehensive description of the values, vision and recommended actions of the low-income community for the future of the DTES. Working independently of government, that community, which forms the majority of residents of the area, has been able to create an easy-to-read, yet comprehensive and detailed plan to guide the future development of the DTES. The community values set out in the document provide a guide to the way we should be planning for the future everywhere….    This is a major contribution to the future of the DTES and our city and warrants high priority as a guide to all actions taken by all levels of governments, agencies, developers and others when contemplating change in the DTES.
–Ray Spaxman, former Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver

“Cities and neighbourhoods often present us with a paradox: traveling through them, almost anyone can see so much of what’s in plain sight — and yet the most important things, like the decisions that shaped the place and the experiences of the people who live there, are impossible to ‘see’ in just a short glance. If you want to see the Downtown Eastside through the eyes of the people who truly understand and live it, read ‘Community Vision for Change in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.’
It’s an extraordinary clear view of the neighbourhood’s strengths and challenges, a valuable, eloquent, and powerful testimony to the values and principles of true community.”
–Elvin Wylie, DTES condo owner and Associate Professor of Geography and Chair of the Urban Studies Program at UBC

“Congratulations on this excellent report.  It is well thought out and presented so clearly in a readable language.  Your leadership has galvanized an amazing team effort.
–Colleen Miller, Gastown business owner

I think the report is beautiful and wholeheartedly support it!!!!
–Teresa Vandertuin, Strathcona resident

Just finished reading the Vision for Change and of course, PACE Society unconditionally endorses it.
–Kerry Porth, Executive Director of PACE

John and I have looked over it and we think it looks great. We’d love to endorse on behalf of Pivot Legal Society.
–Doug King, Pivot Legal Society

The right to the city: Interview with Carnegie Community Action Project’s Jean Swanson

Interview on here

or Text Here:

Jean Swanson is the co-writer of Carnegie Community Action Project’s new report, Assets to Action:  Community Vision for Change in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the author of Poor Bashing:  The Politics of Exclusion.  Am Johal interviewed her in Vancouver.

Am Johal: The Carnegie Community Action Project has been organizing in the Downtown Eastside for some time.  The gentrificiation pressures have continued to escalate.  What were the main findings of your recent report? 

Jean Swanson: When we asked residents what the unsafe or uncomfortable places in the DTES were, they mentioned places that are symbols of gentrification:  the new Woodwards, Gastown, “condos for the rich types,” displacing people with private security guards, security guards harrassing people and moving them out of stores.  In fact gentrification emerged as one of the two biggest issues that made people feel unsafe and uncomfortable.  The other issue was police brutality, harrassment and ticketing.

AJ: You followed an asset based approach to looking at community solutions.  How long did the report take to write and what process did you follow? 

JS: We began by doing visioning workshops with about 300 people at 15 different community hubs.  This was followed by a questionnaire to 655 people, asset mapping workshops with 300 people at 23 community hubs, a reflection committee of mostly mappers to help us draw out the themes from the mapping, and 3 days of planning with 44 community leaders.  The results of the visioning and questionnaire were written up in a report called “Nothing about us without us.”  The mapping was written up in “Our place and our words.”  The planning days process was written in “Seeing it our way.”  Then we got community feedback on “Seeing it our Way” and incorporated it in the final Vision, called “Assets to Action, Community Vision for Change in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.”  The whole thing took about two years and involved 1200 mostly low income residents.

AJ: What is your view of how each of the three levels of government have been doing related to policies in the Downtown Eastside?

JS: The city government is working on getting housing but not hard enough.  They are emphasizing ending street homelessness, not getting housing built.  They need to buy lots in the DTES for housing so we can say to the province and feds, “we have land and now we need you to come up with the money for building the housing.” The City also needs to use its planning and zoning powers to stop gentrification and market condos in the area until we get 5000 units of social housing.  CCAP is calling on them to buy 5 lots a year for the next ten years.   They are balking at this but we are going to keep up the pressure. They are also planning to allow more towers in the DTES which we want to stop. The City has called on the province and feds to adopt a poverty reduction plan which is good.

JS: The province isn’t showing any signs of funding any more housing beyond what is already planned or under construction, about 400-500 units in the DTES.  These units were promised in 2007 and some probably won’t be ready until 2013.  When it takes 6 years from announcement of new housing to moving in day, you know you have to start working now for housing in 2014 and beyond and the province is not doing this.  The province is also responsible for abysmally low welfare rates and minimum wages that are keeping DTES residents and tens of thuosands of others in dire poverty.

The feds need to adopt a national housing strategy that funds 30,000 new units of housing a year for low income people, and we need a drug policy from then that is based on health and human rights principles rather than vengeance.  Our Vision calls for drug treatment on demand, more harm reduction services and eventually, replacement of the present illegal drug market with a legal and regulated one.

AJ: Leading up to the 2010 Olympics, there was alot of media interest for several years.  The province purchased SRO hotels and now 14 sites are also being built.  I’m sure most people consider this to be too little too late given the fact the province used to build 1,200 units annually and that an inner-city inclusive commitment statement was signed.  What strategies will the Carnegie Community Action Project use to keep homelessness, housing and poverty issues on the public agenda? 

JS: We want the city to buy 5 lots a year for housing in the DTES, and we will continue to push the province for funds.  They have a $250 million Housing Endowment Fund that they refuse to spend on housing, which is obscene, since we are in the middle of a housing crisis. We continue to work with other groups like the Red Tent campaign for a National Housing Strategy and for passage of Bill 304, introduced by our Member of Parliament, Libby Davies.  We’ll continue working, especially with our homeless members, to draw attention to the need for housing.

What are some of your specific policy recommendations to protect the low income community in the Downtown Eastside?

We have 12 key actions: Build social housing, tackle systemic poverty, stop gentrification, improve safety, improve health services, support and fund DTES arts and culture, develop an ecoomy that serves and employse local residents, ensure public spaces are public, keep out towers over 10 stories unless they are for social housing, involve DTES resdients in decisions about the neighbourhood, attract more children, create a DTES image that honours and respects low income residents

AJ: The relationship between community and different levels of government has always been heated.  Since the end of the Vancouver Agreement, there have been few tables established to work across jurisdictions between the three levels of government and agencies like the Vancouver Police Department and the health board.  Would a new initiative that has real community involvement like this work again? 

JS: CCAP and DTES residents want residents to drive future work in the DTES, not agencies, groups without residents boards, etc.

AJ: The four pillar approach was a great plan, but it was never implemented.  Can this plan still be adopted? 

JS: Too much money is being spent on enforcement to the detriment of the other pillars of harm reduction, prevention and treatment.  Ending poverty, displacement and colonization would do a lot to help prevent drug addiction.  In our consultation with 1,200 residents, they said a big problem in the community is “forcing drug users outside and criminalizing them.”  They suggested more voluntary treatment on demand, safe injection sites and smoke rooms in the DTES and throughout the city, more harm reduction services and eduction, more healing centres to get at the root of problems ad ending the black market for drugs.  One of the recommendations of the vision is to “replace the current illegal drug market with a regulated legal market bsed on public health and human rights principles.”

AJ: Anything else?

JS: Our Vision is a declaration that the DTES low income community has a right to exist in Vancouver and to seek improvements for itself.  We propose that it be the foundation and guide for future development in the DTES and will seek to work wiht the City, landowners, community organizations, agencies, businesses, and residents to that end.  The most important issue in the Vision is to get safe, secure, permanent and adequate housing for people who are homeless and living in atrocious hotel rooms and rooming houses.