City planners aim to gently gentrify troubled neighbourhood

Crazy what you find in old binders in the back of dusty old cupboards. This article from 1995 is very revealing. The city’s plan for the DTES is to mix rich and poor, according to Sun reporter McLaren. In the cutline below the photo, it says that CCAP wants mixed housing at Woodwards.

Back then, this community DID NOT KNOW about the bad effects of gentrification. Now that Woodward’s is here we realize that new market housing (for the rich or middle class), even if there are some social housing crumbs next door, means:

  • Land values increase;
  • Rents and property taxes increase; Rents increase in the hotels;
  • Hotels close for renovations or sale;
  • More people are evicted or become homeless;
  • Stores serving low-income residents are forced out;
  • Yuppie stores move in;
  • Low-income residents face more harassment from security guards and police;
  • The community feeling changes and low-income people feel judged and uncomfortable; and
  • The community power structure changes so low-income people have less power.

In the 1995 article, Beasley, Former Director of Planning, calls for a recipe to gently gentrify our area based on:
1) Relaxed zoning to bring in richer people
2) New zoning to keep residents in hotels
3) Preservation of heritage and no towers
4) More arts and culture

Beasley’s “relaxed zoning for more condos” and “encouraging arts and culture” are happening in a big way. But both are a problem when our land for social housing and the assets of the low-income community are not secure. Beasley’s preservation of heritage is definitely happening through city grants to developers who build condos for rich people in their heritage buildings. Towers like Woodward’s and the seven 15 story towers potentially coming to the area west of Gore in the next few years will definitely speed up the forces that are displacing residents now.

Beasley’s zoning to keep residents in hotels has not worked. Hotel dwellers are being displaced through rent increases as the “zoning” to keep residents in hotels does not prevent rent increases or closures. The city is not setting aside enough land for social housing. Replacing the hotels will take 42 years by CCAP’s calculation. About 1/2 of the low-income community is already displaced and/or already or at risk of becoming homeless.

In the New Year, CCAP, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council and other groups will sink their teeth into a new campaign. It will call for this Mayor and Council to buy or designate 10 properties in the DTES for social housing as a way to slow the bad ripple effects of Woodwards and other market developments before the next city election in 2011. It’s a daunting task. But I remain hopeful when I see the amount of energy, spirit and unity among our people. See you in council chambers or in the streets in 2011.