Residents at Town Hall Meeting Want to Stop Displacement

About 40 people unanimously agreed to fight for better housing and to try to stop displacement of low income people in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) at a Town Hall meeting on May 9, 2013.  The meeting was sponsored by the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) to inform local residents of the impact of gentrification on hotel room rents and brainstorm about what we can do to stop displacement of low income residents from their homes in the DTES.

About half of the people attending the meeting said they knew of someone who had become homeless because of the housing crisis.  Then Ivan Drury presented the results of CCAP’s 5th annual hotel report, “We’re Trying to Get Rid of the Welfare People.”

Drury said the report shows that:

  • 426 rooms were lost to rents at $425 a month or higher between 2011 and 2012;
  • Only a handful of hotels have all their rents at $375 or lower and most of them are run by Chinese benevolent  societies;
  • While Woodwards does provide 125 units of good housing for low income single people, the gentrifying impact of Woodwards caused rents in 404 surrounding hotel rooms to go up beyond what low income people can afford—some now rent for $700 to $1000 a month.

Drury went on to explain that the city gave developers the right to build condo towers up to 15 stories.  As a result  new projects with 561 condos and only 11 social housing units at welfare rate are in the works there.  They will probably have a similar gentrifying impact , pushing up rents in hotels in Chinatown.

“When [the city] makes decisions they don’t even listen to what we say,” said Carol Martin.  “They totally leave us out.  It’s a violation of human rights.”

Drury said that hotel rents in the Oppenheimer district have been somewhat protected because of special zoning that requires developers in that area to build 20% social housing.  This requirement has kept condos out of the area surrounding Oppenheimer Park until now.  Three new condo proposals are now proposed for that district, meaning that land values and hotel and store rents will start going up.

“This is the 11th hour,” said Wendy Pedersen.  “How can we force the city to give us a Social Justice Zone?”

People at the meeting brainstormed for ways we can work to stop gentrification and the rent increases.  Some ideas included getting rent control, direct action, building alliances with other groups in and outside the DTES, working with Coast Salish Elders, and trying to get a Social Justice Zone in the Oppenheimer, Thornton Park and Hastings Corridor areas.

Victoria Bull said that when the government tried to take the territory of her band in Alberta, “we all stood together” and stopped it. “We should all band together now in the DTES,” she said.

Drury explained that if zoning the Oppenheimer area required 100% social housing, and 70% for Thornton Park and the Hastings Corridor, the community could stave off condos until we can get funding from the province and federal government to house the homeless and replace the hotel rooms with self contained social housing.

Another Town Hall will discuss the idea of a Social Justice Zone on May 20th, 1 to 3 pm in the Carnegie Theatre.