Using Strings to Demonstrate the Distribution of Wealth in Canada

Get 100 inches of string.

Cut it in 4 pieces as follows:

The poorest fifth of Canadians are represented by nothing because they are in debt.

1 piece is 1.3 inches long representing the wealth of the second poorest fifth of Canadians;
1 piece is 6.9 inches long representing the wealth of the middle fifth of Canadians;
1 piece is 17.4 inches long representing the wealth of the second richest fifth of Canadians;
1 piece is 75 inches long representing the wealth of the richest fifth of Canadians;


Say:  I am going to show the distribution of wealth in Canada using these strings.  I have one hundred inches of string representing 100% of the personal wealth in Canada.  It is cut into 5 pieces and each piece represents one fifth of the population of Canada, about 6 million people.

#1. Hold up nothing:  Say:  the poorest fifth of Canadians have no wealth.  They are in debt by an average of over $9000 for each family unit.

#2.  Hold up the 1.3 inch string:  Say:  the second poorest fifth of Canadians have this much wealth:  1.3%.

#3.  Hold up the 6.9 inch string:  Say:  the middle fifth of Canadians have this much wealth:  6.9%.

#4.  Hold up the 17.4 inch string:  Say:  the second to richest fifth of Canadians have this much wealth:  17.4 %.

#5:  Hold up the 75 inch string:  Say:  the richest fifth of Canadians have this much wealth:  75% .

Say:  this information is from a Statistics Canada report in 2006.

Statement on the Mayors Debate

Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territory: November 8, 2011

Three solutions to Vancouver’s housing and homelessness crisis

DTES housing activist responds to the Mayoral Debate

The mayoral candidates said a lot of things but they didn’t debate much at their debating debut on Sunday night. They both admitted that they will not slow down or pause destructive market development in the DTES. They agreed that a municipal tax on real estate speculation and non-resident property ownership would not be appropriate. And also that inclusionary zoning, a soft and widely used development permit mechanism that forces developers to include affordable housing in all market developments, would not be good for Vancouver. They even agreed that the solution to the affordable rental housing and homelessness crisis caused by the real estate market is to be found back in the market itself. Put bluntly their differences were of degree, not principle. For example, while they both agreed that the DTES should remain a low-income community “in the short term,” Anton was the only one of the two who dared to state that there should not be any more social housing built in the poorest off-reserve neighbourhood in Canada.

But the most troubling thing about the mayoral debate is that both candidates took on the low-income affordable housing and homelessness crisis by blaming the provincial and federal levels of government. Both Gregor Robertson and Suzanne Anton avoided the city’s roles in building housing, and city jurisdictions that could save low-income housing. These are the top-three things we believe a mayoral candidate would do if they were serious about ending the affordable rental-housing and homelessness crisis in Vancouver:
  1. Buy 10 sites a year in the DTES for 5 years and dedicate these sites for social housing to replace all 5,000 units of unsafe, unstable, unhealthy SRO hotel housing. Within social housing construction the city’s responsibility is to buy and provide land. As well as properties the city should buy any SRO hotel that comes available on the real estate market in order to remove all low-income housing from the hostile waters of the real estate market. City Council has not bought one single new property in the DTES for social housing in at least three years. Everyone recognizes there is a housing and homelessness crisis in Vancouver and the DTES in particular, but neither mayoral candidate is willing to buy the land necessary to build the housing.
  2. The city must close the holes in the SRA bylaw: Define “conversion” of SRO hotels as raising rents above welfare and pension-affordable rates of $375/month. The DTES low-income community is losing SRO hotel rooms, the last stop for most residents before the street, to developer greed and the city is helping by leaving loopholes in the SRA anti-conversion bylaw big enough to drop entire buildings through. By tying SRO hotel conversion to a dollar value city council would stand with low-income tenants against landlords who may be trying to squeeze more rent monies out of their investment properties and force those landlords to go through public application processes for exemptions to this bylaw. This simple action would cost Vancouver taxpayers nothing and would save thousands of units of low-income housing like the formerly low-income rooms in the Columbia, Lotus, Alexander Court, Golden Crown hotels which are now renting to students and young workers for more than double welfare shelter rates. It would also provide leadership to the provincial government to create effective rent controls in the Residential Tenancy Act to stop rewarding landlords with rent-increases without ceiling after evictions.
  3. Implement an immediate moratorium on market development in the DTES to allow the DTES Local Area Planning process, not developers and market forces, to direct the future of the neighbourhood.This solution will also cost taxpayers nothing and will have more than one powerful meaning for the low-income community in the DTES. Low-income residents of the DTES are reliant on low-income affordable housing, on the availability of services in the neighbourhood, and on affordable shopping options for food, clothes, and other necessities of life. Gentrification, the transformation of the neighbourhood block-by-block into higher-end shops and higher rents, more policing on the streets, the upscaling of hotels to students and young worker housing, threatens all these essentials. The city’s policy has been to encourage, reward, and even directly subsidize gentrifying developments: the uber-high-end Keefer bar and celebrity hotel received a $50,000 heritage grant and an award from city council; mega-corporations London Drugs and Nesters Market received a 10-year tax holiday from the city for setting up shop in the Woodward’s condo complex; and the London Pub and Brixton Cafe received $1.4Million in taxbreaks and kickbacks from council for their heritage development on the corner of Main and Georgia. A moratorium on market development would give the low-income community the breathing room necessary to work on getting the secure, safe, healthy social housing we all need rather than having to work to defend the substandard but affordable SRO hotel housing we currently have. A market development moratorium would also send a powerful signal to the DTES low-income community a powerful signal that their needs, interests, and future are being taken seriously by council and that the local area planning process is more than a token or placating gesture.

Amidst all the bombast about housing and all the claims about ending homelessness we hope that these top-three solutions get some attention. The mayoral candidates can take three real steps to end homelessness and take on the Vancouver housing crisis, and two of them don’t require spending a dime… but they will hurt the profit margins of the richest people in the city. This is, as they say, where the rubber hits the road. Homelessness may, yet again, be the issue of this election but is ending it the priority of either major candidate? We await their responses to these challenges.

Stop Homelessness – Buy The York Rooms

DTES groups call on City Council to put the ACTION back in “Homelessness Action Week”

This “Homelessness Action Week” DTES groups are calling on the City of Vancouver to make some real anti-homelessness steps and buy the York Rooms SRO hotel at 259 Powell and tighen up the SRA bylaw to protect the low-income housing stock.

The DTES Neighbourhood Council, Carnegie Community Action Project and Pivot Legal Society believe that the low-income affordable rooms in the York are in grave and immediate danger of being lost and that the city must step in and prevent the loss of these rooms – the last stop residents have before homelessness. We also think this threat of loss of low-income housing at the York points to the haemorrhaging of low-income housing in the DTES through ‘soft-conversions’ into student and young worker housing, within the SRA ‘anti-conversion’ bylaw. It’s time for City Council to close the holes in the SRA bylaw.

Last week the York Rooms was bought by notorious hotel developers Steven Lippman and Christian Williams and we are worried about losing 34 more low-income, welfare and pension rate rooms from that building. In the last three years Steven Lippman has acquired at least three hotels that used to be core housing for low-income people and are now housing a different class of people. We fear that he has acquired other hotels too, and that he is sitting on them and waiting to do soft conversions into student and young worker housing. His record speaks for itself:

  • The American hotel: Lippman bought the empty American hotel and converted it into rooms for young workers and students with rents that start around $650. He got the city’s blessing to bypass the SRA anti-conversion bylaw by promising to council that 10 rooms would rent at $400 for 10 years.
  • The Lotus hotel: Lippman bought the Lotus earlier this year. In a survey CCAP conducted in the early summer a low-income Aboriginal resident was told there were no rooms available, and that rents began at $800 a month. A student-appearing white volunteer spoke to the same manager minutes later and was told he could move in on the first of the month. For him rent was quoted as $600 a month. This discriminatory renting practice was confirmed in a phone conversation between a CCAP employee and Steven Lippman on Tuesday October 4th. When asked how much a room in the Lotus would cost Lippman said, “It depends what you look like.”  And about the rumours that he had paid low-income residents a thousand dollars to move out of the Lotus he said, “I have never personally paid anyone to move out.” But he did not deny instructing his managers to pay residents one thousand dollars to move out. Instead, he scoffed and said, “That’s not eviction. They are making a free choice to go.”
  • The Golden Crown Hotel: According to news reports all the residents of the Golden Crown hotel were illegally evicted and coerced or tricked into signing a statement agreeing to leave the building in September 2009. Steven Lippman and Christian Williams bought the building, empty, two weeks later. Williams claimed in the media that they had been “lied to” by the former owner who claimed the building was already empty. But on October 4th Lippman only repeated, “I have never personally evicted anyone.” Regardless, the Golden Crown is now the premier “microloft” project in the DTES, where 200 sq ft rooms cost something like $900 a month.

On Sunday October 2nd the DTES Neighbourhood Council, Carnegie Community Action Project and Pivot Legal Society organized a meeting for tenants in the building to learn about their rights, about lawful and unlawful rent increases and evictions. Of the 32 or so residents in the building, 18 came to the last-minute meeting and all were anxious about the potential upscaling of their homes. One resident has lived in the York Rooms for more than 50 years.  In the Historic Area Heights Review, passed this spring at City Hall, Vancouver Council recognizes, “It is Council’s priority to build and protect adequate housing to address low-income, homeless and vulnerable people in our community.”  It is the mandate of council to step in and take action to save the housing at York Rooms.

Steven Lippmand has said, “I’m proud of the fact that I have never personally evicted anyone.” But his technical definition of “not personally evicting” residents rings pretty hollow for low-income residents who can no longer live in the buildings he has invested in and redeveloped as high yield landlord properties. We understand his stated plans for the York, to “fix up the building like I always do,” as a threat to the security of the building as a low-income community housing asset. Although he claims that he will not evict anyone, he also promises to “charge whatever rents the market will bear.”

For national homelessness week this year we want Vancouver City Council to move beyond breakfasts and rhetoric and take two meaningful steps towards stopping homelessness:

  1. Immediately buy the York Rooms: Based on his record and his statements we know that Steven Lippman will upscale the York Rooms as he upgrade it and the doors of the building will be forever closed to low-income residents. The former owner, Mr. Yet Wah Chan, wants the building to remain housing for low-income people. He has suggested to us that he might be willing to reverse the sale if the city will make an offer within his 30 day window to back out of his agreement with Misters Lippman and Williams. Removing the York Rooms from the market housing stock is the only way to protect the low-income rooms there and it is not too late for the city to act.
  2. Strengthen the SRA anti-conversion bylaw: Lippman-esque ‘soft conversions’ of SRO hotels from low-income / close-to-welfare-rate rents to student and young worker housing with more than double welfare rate rents and accompanying anti-poor discrimination is the way that low-income housing is being lost in the DTES. City Council has so far made zero steps to protect the low-income housing stock against these soft conversions. Instead, they have celebrated Steven Lippman’s conversion investment at the American hotel. The health and homes of low-income residents at the York and other hotels must be prioritized over the health of the real estate market.This Homelessness Action Week Vancouver City Council should finally close the loopholes in the SRA bylaw by quantifying “affordability” in the DTES as welfare and pension rate rents to really defend the low-income housing stock. By working with the province to amend the Residential Tenancy Act to place controls over rent increases in the low-income housing stock and tying those rents to welfare and pension rates council will be recognizing the crisis in housing in the DTES and taking real action to address it. Council will also show that stopping homelessness is a bigger priority to them than supporting real estate speculation and landlord profits. With an SRA anti-conversion bylaw with teeth the real estate value of SRO hotels could be suppressed and more easily bought by the city or province and removed from the real estate market.

This year, let’s put the action back in Homelessness Action Week.

DTES Neighbourhood Council board of directors and Carnegie Community Action Project.