CCAP’s letter to Mayor & Council on the DTES LAP

CCAP has sent a letter to Mayor and Council with our response to the DTES Local Area Plan. Scroll down to read the letter or download the PDF here.

The Local Area Plan for the DTES: The Carnegie Community Action Project’s Submission

Dear Mayor and Council,

The Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) is an initiative of the Carnegie Community Centre Association’s Board.  CCAP works primarily on housing, income, and land use issues in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver.

For the last three years, CCAP’s work in the DTES has been based on the community assets that over 1,200 residents identified during an extensive community visioning and mapping process. The process, which culminated in the Community Vision for Change, has guided CCAP’s work in supporting low-income residents as they represent their communities and organizations on the Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) Committee.  Throughout the turbulent LAPP process, these low-income LAPP Committee members have been meeting as the LAPP Low-Income Caucus and discussing various aspects of the City’s plan for the development future of the DTES.

This document summarizes the concerns of CCAP [and the Low-Income Caucus members listed at the end of this letter] regarding the Draft Local Area Plan (LAP) before turning to the recommendations to the Standing Committee on City Finance and Services on the DTES LAP.

In addition to this document, we will present council with over 6,000 signatures on two petitions. The first petition calls for a Social Justice Zone in the DTES. We submitted the signatures to Tom Wanklin in June 2013 and were told they were passed on to Mayor and Council.  However, we were disappointed that we never received any response from Mayor or Council. The second petition has three demands and garnered 3,000 signatures, primarily from low-income DTES residents:

1. CREATE MORE HOUSING. Build 5,000 units of self-contained housing for DTES residents. Make sure that 60% of all new housing built in the Oppenheimer Area is social housing, and 40% is rental housing (no condos). Make sure that people on welfare and pensioners can afford this housing. Make sure some of the housing includes people who are children, adults and seniors.

2SLOW BUSINESS GENTRIFICATION. Create a decision making process directed by low-income people to approve or deny new business (restaurant, liquor, store) applications.

3. CREATE A SOCIAL JUSTICE ZONE. Create plans and projects to make sure low-income people have jobs. Protect residents’ safety and stop abuse by police and security guards. Fund an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre. End discrimination so everyone can access the services they need. Fund peer run mental health services and detox and treatment on demand.

These petitions were gathered over the course of several months of discussion with thousands of low-income DTES residents. We trust that Council will take the input of these residents into account in its decision.

Housing, zoning and the LAP

The DTES LAP is a development plan for a neighbourhood facing a housing crisis that is virtually unparalleled in other Canadian urban centres. The City was compelled by evidence drawn from research on the crisis in the DTES and decades of work on the part of low-income residents to adopt a set of terms of reference for the LAPP that prioritizes the needs of low-income people. After a year of negotiation, the terms of reference for the process were signed by City Manager Penny Ballem and adopted by City Council. They stated that “the purpose of the LAPP is to improve the future for all residents, especially low-income and vulnerable residents [emphasis added].”

Emphasizing the needs of low-income residents when planning the development future of the neighbourhood was subject to criticism from various individuals and groups throughout the LAPP. Now it appears as though the City ceded to pressures from these influential forces. The draft LAP now states: “The Local Area Plan aims to ensure that the future of the DTES improves the lives of all those who currently live in the area, including low-income and middle income residents, the homeless, seniors, women, children and families[1].”

This subtle shift in the framing of the LAP reflects the document’s new focus: transforming the DTES into a neighbourhood where low-income people form the minority. The LAP acknowledges the displacement of low-income people from the DTES due to rising rents in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels and “renovictions” as rooms are converted to attract higher-income tenants. The document also acknowledges low-income residents’ feelings of discrimination and the loss of community assets as gentrification takes hold. Yet the only concrete and definitive measure in the LAP that addresses these concerns is the 60%/40% inclusionary zoning proposal for the Oppenheimer Area.

We strongly support the zoning proposal for the Oppenheimer Area. We urge Council to withstand pressure from developers, interest groups and other critics who claim that the proposal will create a “ghetto”, will lead to an economic dead-zone or will constitute a form of ill-deserved social engineering.[2]  We maintain that the DTES is a neighbourhood with specialized services, affordable stores, amenities and community ties that form a lifeline for thousands of the city’s most marginalized residents. Zoning regulations, incentives, bylaws and municipal policies are all forms of social engineering. Many go unnoticed because they do what is expected: they upscale neighbourhoods. Measures to control the escalating land values in the Downtown Eastside are essential to leveraging funding for the desperately needed housing from senior levels of government.

That said, the inclusionary zoning proposal is diluted by the weak definition of social housing proposed in the LAP. As it stands, there is no guarantee that any unit will be available to people on social assistance and basic pension. We cannot support a plan that has a “target” of 20% of social housing units to be at welfare pension, with some bachelor units renting as high as $1,400[3].  These definitions and targets essentially discriminate against people on social assistance and basic pension, the very people who are in most need of social housing.  B.C. Housing does not discriminate against tenants based on income, and we urge the City to adopt a similar policy.

We feel that it is ironic that the City has been criticized for proposing to invest in social housing in certain recent news articles and letters. The City has committed a mere $50 million and three lots that it already owns to social housing in the LAP over a 30-year period. This amounts to much less than the value of the City’s gift to a new Art Gallery, which is estimated at $200 million.[4] The small contribution falls short of achieving the policy objectives of the 2005 DTES Housing Plan, which calls for the protection of low-income housing stock and the one-for-one replacement of SROs.

The City hopes to raise $525 million from government and non-profit partners to meet the LAP’s housing targets. Yet by failing to describe the housing crisis in the DTES as the emergency it is, the City does itself a disservice to its hope of raising these funds.  The DTES LAP is an opportunity for the City to sound the alarm bells. Experience has shown that painting a clear picture of the crisis, acquiring land and investing in social housing is the best way to leverage support from senior governments. Furthermore, because so many issues in the DTES are rooted in extreme poverty, the LAP could amplify demands to the B.C. government to raise social assistance rates. Instead, the tone set by the LAP leads one to think that the issues can be managed simply through minor interventions and soft policies. We invite the City to work with us in devising a strategy to advocate strongly to senior governments for the changes we need.

The LAP and Social Mix

If the LAP is adopted in its current form, only one unit of housing that is affordable to people on social assistance and basic pension will be built for every ten unaffordable units. Low-income residents will not be prevented from moving to other neighbourhoods in the city if they can afford the higher rents implied by the citywide definition of social housing. Those who want to remain in the DTES will be outnumbered by higher-income residents. The City’s strategy of social mix for the DTES will be accomplished.

The CCAP Community Vision for Change document describes the strong sense of community, abundance of volunteer opportunities, feeling of comfort and acceptance, and availability of affordable and accessible necessities that low-income residents benefit from in the DTES[5].  Many of the low-income community assets listed in the 2014 DTES Social Impact Assessment (SIA)[6] parallel the assets that CCAP’s process identified. These include specialized health services, volunteer opportunities, low cost and free food options, accessible spaces, affordable stores and locations for informal economic activities.

Much of the housing, services, amenities and spaces that appear in lists of low-income community assets were won through a history of social justice struggle in the neighbourhood. Yet, as CCAP has observed through six years of documenting privately-owned SRO rates in the DTES, rents in the neighbourhood are rising relentlessly, leaving residents with no choice but to move away from the community, become homeless or spend more of their already meager incomes on rent while sacrificing other needs such as food.[7] The City’s DTES SIA notes: “The biggest fear that residents have around livelihoods is that they will no longer be able to afford to live in the neighbourhood and access its shops and retail services (p.22).” CCAP’s research indicates that these fears are well-founded. Importantly, the SIA also stresses, “DTES residents value strong social networks, acceptance of diversity and strong sense of community. DTES residents often congregate in the public realm as a way to socialize and connect (p. 37).”

Despite arguments that social mix will benefit poor people in the DTES by bringing in more investment and income-making opportunities, examples from across the globe show that low-income people are not only excluded from the benefits but left worse-off.[8] Academics have long been warning policy makers to take stock of growing evidence that social mix produces more segregation, polarization and marginalization. According to scholar Loretta Lees: “Over the longer term poor people suffer more from the loss of benefits of living in a poor neighbourhood, than they gain from living in a more affluent one.” Lees maintains that the “rhetoric of ‘social mix’ hides a gentrification strategy and in that a hidden social cleansing agenda.[9]

There are many reasons why the process of gentrification harms low-income residents. The small and medium-size enterprises and the new higher-income residents who come into a gentrifying area are often much better-equipped to fight for and defend their interests than the low-income residents who remain.[10] Marginalization, a reduced sense of belonging, increased conflict and the breakdown of social fabric are associated with social mix and gentrification. These changes can be extremely damaging to the health and wellbeing of low-income people, many of who are already facing the health challenges and social exclusion that come with living in poverty.[11]

As a policy and planning tool, social mix fails to propose any solutions to address the root causes of poverty and marginalization. Displacing DTES residents to another neighbourhood, or encouraging an influx of wealthier residents into the DTES, will mean that the same issues the city – and the low-income community members – face now will continue to surface elsewhere, with an even greater possibility of social conflict.

The LAP Process

CCAP has supported low-income members of the LAPP throughout the process. Although many entered into the process with great hope, the promise of developing a plan in partnership with the City soon faded. The end of the process has proven particularly disappointing and problematic. Low-income LAPP committee members were not given adequate time to review the draft LAP before the document went public and had to demand sessions to provide input on the chapters. City staff did not take minutes during the later committee meetings, and were not even present at one of the final input sessions. Co-chair Herb Varley was removed from his position with no discussion, despite several letters of protest signed by many LAPP committee members. By the end of the process, LAPP low-income caucus members were routinely not notified of sub-committee and co-chair meetings.

We believe that the DTES Planning Department lost sight of the process mandate of prioritizing low-income community’s needs, grew concerned by conflict within the committee and, upon realizing that no consensus on the final document would be reached, abandoned all the principles of participatory process. As such, a process that began with courage and vision became a silent side-show. Meanwhile, the real political decisions were made behind closed doors and in meetings with private interest groups.

Amendments that must be made to City recommendations on DTES LAP

CCAP urges Council to make its approval of the DTES LAP contingent on the following amendments to the recommendations to the Standing Committee on City Finance and Services[12]:

Recommendation C

Amend to replace with:

THAT Council create a committee of low-income people to approve and deny business and development applications in accordance with a set of rules designed to preserve low-income community assets.

Recommendation D

Amend to add:

For the purpose of the DTES Local Area Plan, ‘Social Housing’ is non-market housing owned and run by a government or non-profit body and accessible to those living on the lowest incomes including basic social assistance shelter rate or 1/3 of basic old age pension.

Amend to delete all references to micro dwellings.

Recommendation E

Amend (i) to replace the definition of social housing with the following:

For the purpose of the DTES Local Area Plan, ‘Social Housing’ is non-market housing owned and/or run by a government or non-profit body and accessible to those living on the lowest incomes including basic social assistance shelter rate or 1/3 of basic old age pension.

Amend to delete all references to micro dwellings.

Recommendation F

Amend (ii) as follows:

For the purpose of the DTES Local Area Plan, ‘Social Housing’ is non-market housing owned and run by a government or non-profit body and accessible to those living on the lowest incomes including basic social assistance shelter rate or 1/3 of basic old age pension.

Amend (iii) to delete all reference to micro dwellings.

Recommendation G

Delete recommendation and refer the matter of SRA bylaw reform to the community to ensure that landlords and the City are accountable for SRO conditions and low-income tenants are not evicted or renovicted due to high rents.

Include in SRA bylaw reform:

1.2 “Conversion” or “convert” means:

(a) a change in the form of occupancy, intended form of occupancy, or customary form of occupancy of a designated room from low-income living accommodation for a permanent resident to living accommodation for a transient guest, student, or to another purpose.

Recommendation H:

Add:

Commit to immediately instituting a municipal rent control program.

Mandate the SRA Task Force to investigate and publicly report on the issue of “soft conversions” in SROs.

Amend as follows:

(i) Reaffirm the program to provide grants to non profit societies to upgrade rooms on the condition that no one is evicted and that rents are at the welfare shelter amount.

(iii) Approve in principle a $100,000 grant to PIVOT Legal Society to organize and advocate for DTES tenants.

(iv, c) Align rent increases to the room instead of the tenant.

(v) Amend the Vancouver Charter to grant permission to the City to impose third party non-profit management or City expropriation on buildings with landlords who are chronically or otherwise seriously non-compliant with standards of maintenance, the Residential Tenancy Act and/or the British Columbia Human Rights Code as it relates to tenancy.

Recommendation ID

Delete section on micro dwellings.

Recommendation K

Amend to add:

[…] as long as upgraded rooms are rented at the welfare shelter rate.

Recommendation M:

Amend to delete last paragraph.

Appendix E: Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer Official Development

Plan: Proposed Text Amendments

Amend the definition of social housing to read:

For the purpose of the DTES Local Area Plan, ‘Social Housing’ is non-market housing owned and run by a government or non-profit body and accessible to those living on the lowest incomes including basic social assistance shelter rate or 1/3 of basic old age pension.

Delete all sections on micro dwellings.

Amend section 4.5.1 (a) to read:

To a maximum of 5.0 floor space ratio, if at least 60% of the residential units comprising not less than 60% of the gross floor area.

Amend section 5.5.1 (a) and 6.5.1 and 7.5.1 (a) to read as the above.

Delete section 5.5.2.

Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre

The LAPP Low-Income Caucus is putting forward a proposal to add an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre to the list of “Quick Start” actions. Please note that this proposal differs significantly from the “Coast Salish Village” proposed in the LAP.

The idea behind the Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre is to create a comfortable and welcoming place for DTES residents to heal and work on their wellbeing. The Centre would be guided by the knowledge, traditions and culture of Indigenous people. Although the proposal is to welcome all people into the Centre, it would be run and directed by Indigenous people.  Peer-run intergenerational programming will be at the heart of the Centre. The Centre will also include intergenerational housing on the upper floors.

The Caucus is proposing a property owned by Vancouver Coastal Health, and located at 301 E. Hastings, as the site for the Centre. As Vancouver Coastal Health is currently reviewing its services in the DTES, the timing is suitable for incorporating the proposal into the LAP. A second option is 138 E. Hastings, which is currently the site of a condo proposal.

We trust that you will take our input into consideration.

Sincerely,

Tamara Herman, King-mong Chan and Jean Swanson

The Carnegie Community Action Project

tamaraccap@gmail.com

http://www.ccapvancouver.wordpress.com

Appendix: The Low-Income Caucus Position on the Local Area Plan

1. End the DTES housing crisis. Designate land for social housing.  Build 5000 units of self-contained housing for DTES residents who are homeless or live in hotel rooms. Make a plan do this within 10 years using city, provincial and federal funds.

2. Define Social Housing. Make sure that people on welfare, with a shelter allowance of $375/month, pensioners and people who can’t afford market rents can afford social housing.

3. Change zoning laws. Support city staff’s plan to require 60% of new buildings in the Oppenheimer area to be social housing, and 40% to be market rentals  (no condos allowed).  Require one third of all new housing in Thornton Park and the Hastings Corridor to be social housing available to people on welfare and basic pension, and one-third to be social housing available to the working poor.

4. Improve the housing we have. Hold landlords accountable for bad conditions. Stop renovictions and bring in real rent control.

5. Control business gentrification. Create a process directed by low-income people to approve or deny new business (restaurant, liquor, boutique) applications.

6. Quality, living wage jobs for low-income residents. Create job training programs for anyone who wants them.  Require local business to hire local residents.

7. Safety for all.  Stop criminalizing survival work like sex work and vending. Stop abuse by police and security guards.  Create a special office directed by low income and Indigenous residents to receive complaints and direct investigations. 8. Create an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre. Fund a centre designed and operated by Indigenous people, with the consent of people from the local nations. Include resident-run intergenerational housing in the building for Elders, children, youth, young parents and adults.

9. Fund peer run mental health services. Fund and enable mental health services run by people who experience mental health issues themselves and have experience in the system.

10. Fund harm reduction services, detox, and treatment on demand. Empower people who use drugs to design and implement harm reduction services. Make sure that anyone who wants detox or treatment can get it right away.

11. Fund social services that provide safety and choices. Make sure that people with mental illness are given choices that include non pharmaceutical and non institutional options, choices about what kind of support they need and who provides it.

12. End discrimination so everyone can get the services they need. Make sure Indigenous residents, people with disabilities, queer and trans people, women, and people who speak Chinese and Spanish can use services and feel welcome there.  Fund services that make the relationship between settlers and Indigenous people equal.  Make the DTES a sanctuary zone where all have equal access to health, housing and social services regardless of citizenship status.


[1] City of Vancouver. Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan. February 26, 2014. Appendix A. Pg. 1.

[8] Popkin, S., Cunningham, M., Burt, M. (2005) Public housing transformation and the hard to house. HPD. 16(1): 1-24.; Goetz, E. (2003). Clearing the way: Deconcentrating the poor in urban America. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute Press

[9] Lees, Loretta. “Gentrification and social mixing: toward an inclusive urban renaissance?” Urban Studies 45, no. 12 (2008): 2449-2470.

[10] Goetz, Edward G. “Forced relocation vs. voluntary mobility: The effects of dispersal programmes on households.” Housing studies 17, no. 1 (2002): 107-123.

[11] Lees, Loretta. “Gentrification and social mixing: toward an inclusive urban renaissance?” Urban Studies 45, no. 12 (2008): 2449-2470.