Downtown Eastsiders win a small victory

March 29, 2012

Downtown Eastsiders win a small victory

Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territory:  Eloquent, passionate and articulate speeches by low income residents who love their community caused a tiny victory at City Hall last month. It was all about a technical, but controversial detail:  the definition of social housing.

On March 27 and 28, City Council considered a 37 page report about the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Program (LAPP).  Buried in the report was a definition of social housing. Developers in the Oppenheimer part of the DTES would have to meet this definition if they want to build condos.  The law for that area already says that 20% of any development has to be social housing.  The Council report said this 20% could be half at welfare rate and the other half at up to $839 for a bachelor or $925 for a one bedroom unit.  The LAPP committee asked Council to send this part of the report back to the LAPP committee and city staff to change.

Then the residents spoke:

Lou Vodnak told Council, “The DTES is vibrant, creative, and diverse.  People have a lot of heart and pull together to help each other out….We need to protect low income housing before any more condo’s are allowed.”

Patrick Foley said he’d like Council to sign a declaration that “the DTES is a precious asset to all Vancouver.”

Patricia MacDonald said clearly, “No to condo development.  Yes to welfare rate housing.”

Krista-Dawn Kimsey told Council that her children “are excited to walk on Hastings St. because of the generosity of people toward them.”  “The sense of welcome and neighbourliness is one of the most beautiful things about the neighbourhood.”

Wendy Pedersen read Victoria Bull’s letter to Council: “The DTES is not really a horrible place.  It’s a community.  What you’re doing is gentrifying a neighbourhood completely without us in it.”

Harold Lavender explained that gentrification was “creating a fantastic amount of stress, anxiety and despair” among people like him who had only $906 a month from their disability pension. “The definition of social housing is a fundamental issue.  The community needs to be heard.  The median income [in the DTES] is only $12,000 a year, very far below the low income cutoff (about $21,550 a year).”

Karen Ward, who lives in the new social housing at Woodwards, told Council, “Reducing social housing from 20% to 10% will destroy our community.”  She explained how “social mix is a code word for gentrification.  As soon as I leave [my home] I face obstacles.  I can’t afford an $8 sandwich.  I’m followed by security guards.  Feelings of exclusion pervade our very souls.”

Herb Varley, an Aboriginal man, told council, “we all borrow the land from our great grandchildren.  We cannot continue to displace people.  Think of the DTES as a reservation.  People put us there because it was bad for farming.  But now there are resources there.”  He went on, “If we lose our sense of community, it makes it easier to rob and steal from our neighbour, to walk by a man passed out on the street.”

Colleen Boudreau told Council that she was “gravely concerned if the policy goes through.”  She was also concerned that more liquor licenses in the area would bring more violence to the community.

Kathy Shimizu, said that her family lived near Oppenheimer Park before they were displaced by the forced removal of people of Japanese ancestry during WWII.  “The forced removal of current residents is the same type of injustice,” she said.

Jean Swanson spoke about the DTES Housing Plan.  She said “the plan points to the Oppenheimer district as the place where social housing can be built to replace 2,000 SRO hotel units. And it says that if development becomes too attractive in the area then council must act to hold development back.”

After they were done all waited expectantly for council to make their ruling. The room let out a collective sigh of relief when Mayor Gregor Robertson moved an amendment to send the Oppenheimer social housing clause back to committee.

Councillor Andrea Reimer supported the amendment and called for a specific definition and ratio of low-income social to market housing that takes local neighbourhood dynamics into account. She said, “I don’t see how we can take the average [income] of the whole city and use it for the DTES.”  Her observation was backed up by the staff report which cites the median income of the entire Downtown Eastside as $12,000. In the Oppenheimer district income levels are lower still.

In the end, Council did refer the definition of social housing back to the staff and the LAPP committee. Council also told staff that the LAPP committee has to have reports that go to Council at least three weeks in advance.  But they did approve the LAPP work program that most LAPP committee members had no input into.  Council also agreed to a rezoning policy that will allow a least 500 more condo units to proceed during the planning process.  So there is still a lot of work to do.

“We’re hoping that we can develop a new definition of social housing that will slow condo development in the Oppenheimer Area,” said Ivan Drury of the DTES Neighbourhood Council.  “We’re hoping we can use this action by Council to help stop the Sequel 138 (old Pantages site) condo project on Hastings St.”

Sequel 138, slated to go to the Development Permit Board on April 23rd, is located on E. Hastings St. in the Oppenheimer zoning district where the zoning calls for 20% social housing in nearly all new developments.  The project, which is opposed by at least 40 organizations and thousands of residents, is key to the transition of the low-income community into a high income community.  Learn more about the controversial Sequel 138 project at:



SOS! Stop the Pantages sneak!

SOS! The city is slipping condos through the back door while we guard the front!

Join CCAP, DNC and many others from the DTES low-income community to speak out against a policy that could destroy the low-income community in the name of helping it


The City’s Interim Rezoning Policy and Development Management Guidelines for the DTES Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) are supposed to provide some relief to the low-income community from the pressures of market development so that we can do long-term planning. We feared that these policies would be weaker than we needed but we never dreamed that they would sneak a gentrification bomb in the back door of this policy, burying it in a last-minute document that the committee never got a chance to see or comment on before it was sent to council… Continue reading

Talking points for city council: Protect the low-income community from gentrifying condos in the DEOD!

You will be speaking about Guideline 1. Development Applications in the DTES Oppenheimer District (DEOD). It says:

“In the areas governed by the existing Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer Official Development Plan (DEOD ODP), any development permit application for residential development over 1 FSR must include 20% social housing. For the purposes of these Development Management Guidelines and interpretation of the DEOD ODP, “social housing” means residential units that are owned and/or operated by government or a Council-approved non-profit, with at least 50% of these units where the tenant contribution to rent is no more than the shelter component of income assistance for a single individual ($375) and the remaining 50% of units with a maximum monthly rent of 30% of BC Housing’s Housing Income Limits (HILs) or CMHC market rent (whichever is lower).” [This means that the 50% not renting at welfare rate could rent for up to $837.50 to $925 depending on whether they are bachelor or one-bedroom units.] Continue reading

CCAP analysis of Vancouver city policies during the LAPP

Interim Rezoning Policy and Interim Development Management Guidelines

At City Council on Tuesday March 27 city staff will present a 37 page long set of proposals that outline how the Downtown Eastside (DTES) Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) will work and how development during the LAPP will be governed. The low-income community, which is battening down the hatches against the heavy winds of a gentrification storm in all sections of the neighbourhood, had high hopes for this set of policies. We were greatly disappointed to read the draft that staff sent to the committee just hours before putting it up on the council website. CCAP has pulled out the policies and guidelines from this 37 page document and analysed them one-by-one to explain why they do not come close to the policies we need to protect the low-income community from gentrification, and to outline the sort of policies we do need. Continue reading

Stop Sequel 138 – Pantages Condos – CCAP letter to city council

Subject: Sequel 138 development

Mayor and Council, Brenda, Kevin and David,

As you know, the Carnegie Community Action Project is terrified that the Sequel 138 project and its 79 condos will be the thin edge of the condo wedge that destroys the low income community in our precious Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer Area.

The reasons for our terror include:
• the project will make it extremely unlikely that the Downtown Eastside Housing Plan can be implemented by encouraging condos with only 10% welfare rate housing in the DEOD. On page 58, the Housing Plan says it is “unlikely that 1 for 1 replacement of the existing 2000 SRO units will be possible in the DEOD” if market development becomes attractive there;
• the project will have a gentrifying impact on hotels housing hundreds of low income people in the 100 block, pushing up rents and forcing people to move out perhaps to the street or to double up in unhealthy spaces;
• the project will further gentrify the neighbourhood by linking to upscale business in Chinatown with its internal passageway of upscale boutiques and stores;
• there is broad consensus in the DTES community that Sequel 138, once completed, will result in displacement and exclusion for low-income residents living nearby, and threaten the viability of businesses and services that support them. To date, over 2000 individuals and 45 organizations have signed a community resolution calling on Marc Williams to sell the property to the City for 100% community controlled social housing and amenity space.

The negative impacts of Sequel 138 on the DTES low-income community must not be ignored. The Development Permit process focuses entirely on technical and legal matters, and eliminates from consideration the social implications of this project. The violence of displacement and the increase in human suffering that will spread throughout the neighbourhood as a result of this development can only be halted by stopping the project immediately.

We are asking you not to grant Sequel 138 a development permit.

Sincerely Yours,
Jean Swanson

CCAP Coordinator

City’s proposed gentrification controls not strong enough

Dear DTES residents, community members, city wide supporters and those interested in the DTES Local Area Planning Process (LAPP).

This Tuesday, City council will receive a report from their staff on the Local Area Planning Process that includes an “Interim Rezoning Policy” and “Development controls” in the appendix (see links at the bottom of this post). There are some potential bombs in here for the low-income community that we need everyone to learn about and fight.

Please come to a TOWN HALL MEETING to learn more.

1-2:30PM, FRI MAR 23
Carnegie Theatre

If you cannot attend the Town Hall on Friday, we can come to you. Let us know how to get in touch with you and/or your group’s board of directors.

Please come to city hall to speak or speak or support.

2:00PM, TUES MAR 27
Council chamber
Third floor city hall
Lunch (12:00-1:15PM) & transportation from Carnegie provided


Meeting notice

Sign up: with Bonnie Kennett,

Meeting Coordinator


City staff report


CCAP had hoped that the policies would allow the low-income community a bit of a break from fighting gentrification so that we can focus on longer term comprehensive planning in partnership with the city. Unfortunately we believe the city recommendations do not go nearly far enough. The major problems are:

1) Condo rezonings: All 508 active condo proposals in all parts of the DTES continue and still more can be proposed in Chinatown and Victory Square throughout the LAPP, and;

2) Condo development permits: Current applications for 180 new condos go ahead under current rules and the city will take applications for developments in every area of the DTES, and;

3) Retail gentrification: The policy continues to offer incentives through capital and heritage facade grants and offers virtually no controls over new boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, or bars and;

4) Definition of social housing: The city has lowered the bar for developers with a new definition of social housing (new condo projects that require 20% social housing need only have 10% units at welfare/old age pension rate). This has the potential to erase the DTES Oppenheimer District (DEOD) as a last possible social housing bastion in the area.

What will happen if these recommendations pass?

If council accepts the staff recommendations, then 688 condo units will likely be built in the next few years and many more can be approved. Woodwards has 550 condo units. These 688 proposed new units will have a similar massive gentrifying impact.

Very little social housing at welfare/old age pension rate has been planned and the number of condos will outpace social housing development at a rate of 25:1.
See more here

The LAPP Committee was not a partner in drafting this report. CCAP believes that procedurally, the process of staff developing these recommendations without the support of the LAPP Committee, threatens the partnership between the community and city staff that is supposed to be the foundation of the DTES LAPP process.

CCAP hopes that we can convince council to hold off on making a decision and give us more time to work with the staff on a new proposal for controls on development through the LAPP.


CCAP’s alternative “interim development controls

City staff’s draft “interim rezoning policy and development controls

CCAP’s 10 reasons to oppose the city’s Interim Rezoning Policy

CCAP’s 8 myths and tricks the city will use to convince us that this is better than nothing