Downtown Eastside housing crisis worsens in 2012

Feb. 20, 2013

Downtown Eastside housing crisis worsens in 2012

While the city brags about its housing accomplishments, the housing crisis in the DTES got worse in 2012.  Not only were there about OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA850 homeless people, up from 700 last year, thousands of people are still living in crummy SRO hotel rooms with no bathroom or kitchen, and often cockroaches, bedbugs and poor conditions… which they increasingly cannot afford.

At least 426 hotel rooms that were accessible to low-income tenants in 2011 were lost to rent increases in 2012.  That’s one finding of the Carnegie Community Action Project’s (CCAP) latest annual hotel report, called “We’re trying to get rid of the welfare people.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“For decades, residential hotel rooms in the Downtown Eastside have been low-income people’s last resort before homelessness,” said Fraser Stuart. “People on welfare and disability and seniors with a basic pension have only about $375 a month for rent. This year we lost at least 426 rooms to rent increases above $425.”

Many hotels are now consciously trying to get rid of people on welfare and disability in favour of young workers and students, says the report, which quotes statements like the one in the report’s title that a desk clerk made to CCAP surveyors posing as prospective tenants.

The CCAP report also provides evidence that the  “social mix experiment” at Woodward’s is a failure for low-income people.  In 2009 developer Ian Gillespie called Woodward’s a “social experiment” and said, “Come back in a year and see how this social experiment turns out.” (NYT, November 24 2009). “We lost 404 units of SRO housing near Woodward’s to closure or rents at $500 or over,” said report co-author Ivan Drury, pointing to the Metropole hotel across the street from Woodward’s.  Rents at the Metropole are in the $700 range.  “We only gained 125 units of social housing for low-income singles through Woodward’s project so there is a net loss of 279 units. The lesson of Woodward’s is that social mix creates gentrification pressures that destroy more low-income housing that it builds. Social mix is a bankrupt planning strategy for the Downtown Eastside.”

The hotel report also says:

  • Only 5% of the rooms (159)* are in hotels where all the rents are $375 or lower, down from 7% last year;
  • Vacancies are minimal with only one vacant room found that rents for the welfare shelter rate of $375;
  • Some hotels are still charging between $200 and $375 extra when two people share a tiny room
  • 2012 was a terrible year for new self-contained social housing in the DTES with only 24 units opening.

2012 DTES hotel gentrification_MAP_WEB_SMALL

The city’s DTES Housing Plan calls for the rate-of-change (new condo compared to new social housing construction) to be about evenOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and the CCAP report points out that, instead, condos are overwhelming social housing in the DTES. CCAP’s report outlines the real rate of change in 2012, including hotel rooms lost to low-income people because of rent increases, of 27 to one.  The rate of change not including hotel rooms lost to rent increases is about three condos to one social housing unit between 2005 and 2014 but no new government funded welfare rate social housing is planned after that.

Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council board member Herb Varley explained the importance of housing in his life; “I lived in the York hotel when it was bought by an investor. Rooms that were $425 a month are not renting for around $500, which no one on welfare can afford. I didn’t like my room there because it was tiny, infested with bed bugs and expensive but if I didn’t have it I would have been on the street,” said Varley. “It sucks that we have to fight for SROs because they’re not good housing, but they’re better than the street. The government should protect the SROs today and build social housing tomorrow.”

“The city must acknowledge that we have a housing crisis in the DTES,” said report co-author Jean Swanson.  “It needs to slow gentrification to stop the rent increases until senior governments fund new social housing. By congratulating themselves on housing progress, the city undermines its ability to seek senior government funds for desperately needed social housing.”

The report calls on the city to:

  • Buy 10 lots a year for social housing;
  • Stop condo development until current residents have decent social housing;
  • Declare the Oppenheimer and Hastings Corridor areas of the DTES a Social Justice Zone where the unique low-income community can survive and thrive.

The province should

  • Fund social housing for 850 homeless residents and SRO replacement units;
  • Amend the Residential Tenancy Act to prohibit discrimination based on social condition
  • Amend the RTA to enact effective rent control based on the unit, not the tenant

The federal government should enact a national housing program to replace at least 1,000 SRO units per year for the next 5 years.

Find CCAP’s 2012 SRO hotel report, “We’re trying to get rid of the welfare people,” online at https://ccapvancouver.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/2012_ccap-hotel-report_web.pdf

Contact:  Ivan Drury: 604 781 7346 / Jean Swanson:  604 729 2380