BC housing announcement mostly spin and little substance

Yesterday, Feb 12th 2016, the BC government announced that it would spend $355 million over the next 5 years to build up to 2000 “affordable” housing units. The government claimed that this was an “historic” announcement.

However, the money referred to in the announcement is not a new investment by the BC government, it is the expected revenue that will be gained from the Non-Profit Asset Transfer Program i.e. the sale of BC Housing buildings to non-profits in the coming years. This reinvestment was already announced in the 2015 BC housing Service Plan. At that time it amounted to $418 million spread out as follows: $35M for 2014/2015; $174M for 2015/16; $140M for 2016/17; and $69M for 2017/18. [1]

The press release further claims that since 2001, the Province has added more than 24,750 new units of affordable housing. However, most of this support in recent years has been focused in three areas: rental assistance supplements, new emergency shelter beds, and the purchase of existing SRO (single room occupancy) hotels. While shelter beds and maintaining SRO hotels are necessary, they do not create actual new low-income housing units.

Building up to 2000 “affordable” housing units over the next five years is not “historic.” In the 1980’s between the mid 1970s and early 1990s, BC built between 1000 and 1500 units of social housing a year. [2] Furthermore, “affordable” housing does not necessarily mean that people who are homeless or low income will be able to afford the housing. According to the new definition of social housing used in the City of Vancouver, only one third of social housing has to be available to single people whose income is under $36,500.

With rapid gentrification and high housing prices causing more homelessness in places like the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, Victoria, Maple Ridge, and Abbotsford, and with homeless people having half the life expectancy as others in Vancouver, BC needs a housing program that builds at least 10,000 units a year in order to meet the real need and end homelessness. $355 million over 5 years is a pittance compared to the dire need.

[1] BC housing Service Plan (2015): http://bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2015/sp/pdf/agency/bch.pdf  (pg. 15)

[2] Unpacking the Housing Numbers How much new social housing is BC building? https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/2010/09/CCPA-BC-SPARC-Unpacking-Housing-Numbers.pdf)

Our Homes Can’t Wait! Save SRO’s and Build Social Housing Now!

FINAL TOWN HALL POSTER

In 2016 we need to step up the housing struggle. On January 9th, the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) is hosting a Town Hall meeting to kick off a 2016 Downtown Eastside housing campaign. We need all levels of government to take immediate actions to stop the loss of SRO hotels and build social housing at welfare rates. Our homes can’t wait!

WHEN: 2:00-3.30pm, Saturday, January 9th
WHERE: Carnegie Theater, 401 Main Street, Unceded Coast Salish Territories
ACCESSIBILITY: The theater and the bathrooms are wheelchair accessible

Join us for a public forum and discussion about what needs to be done to address the housing crisis in the Downtown Eastside in 2016 and onwards. Come hear from Downtown Eastside community groups and speakers. Snacks and coffee will be provided.

The town hall will be taking place on the unceded coast salish territories of the Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm), Tsleil-Wauthuth (Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh) and Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw) peoples.

BACKGROUND

This year saw record high homelessness in the Downtown Eastside, with 836 people living on the streets and in shelters. Sequel 138 is opening its doors in January, “Woodwards East” is under construction (955 E Hastings), new condo developments are underway in Chinatown, a “tech hub” will be opening at the old cop shop in 2016, and a renewed street sweep has pushed homeless people and survival street vendors off East Hastings.

Despite this worsening housing crisis, only a handful of new welfare rate units will open in 2016. The city’s lease on the Quality Inn will also expire, effectively removing 157 rooms from the affordable housing list. To make matters worse, we are rapidly losing affordable SRO units – the last stop before homelessness – as gentrification continues to push up rents. In the Downtown Eastside alone, over 300 affordable SRO rooms were lost in 2014. With new condos opening up across the Downtown Eastside we expect to lose hundreds more SRO units in the coming years.

We need to urgently develop a strategic campaign that will force all levels of government to address this impending and ongoing crisis, stop the hotel losses, and provide affordable housing for low-income people. More than ever we need to work together to support each other, coordinate our actions, and create a united front against displacement and for social housing. United we are stronger!

Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/147908715580038/147909855579924/

Downtown Eastside Groups Unite Against Street Sweep

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“The only reason people are being harassed and pushed off the sidewalks is because discrimination against the poor has become official City policy,” said Karen Ward on Monday, November 30th. Ward, from Gallery Gachet, was speaking to a crowd that gathered together for a news conference on organized in opposition to the City’s displacement of survival street vendors from East Hastings street.

The City’s latest displacement of street vendors is part of a longer history of criminalizing survival street vending and poverty in Vancouver. Al Fowler  explained, “I was street vending before, but I can’t anymore because last year I got a six month conditional sentence for street vending and I was thrown into jail twice. I was made into a criminal because I was a street vendor. But we are not criminal, we are just poor people trying to survive.” Fowler added, “This is not just about the war on drugs, it is the war on the poor.”

The news conference included speakers from Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), the Right to Remain project, and Pivot Legal Society. Approximately 40 members, including speakers from Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS) and Eastside Illicit Drinkers Group for Education (EIDGE) arrived to the news conference chanting: “Whose streets? Our Streets!”

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Al Fowler speaking to the media

Displacement doesn’t make the street safer for low-income people

The news conference was held on the 0 to 100 block of East Hastings at the epicentre of the City’s attack on street vendors and homeless people, where only two weeks ago there was a large and thriving survival street market. Rob Morgan, board member of WAHRS, explained it this way: “I noticed after welfare day that this street was bare. I am a peer research assistant, for an eviction study, and all my clients were on this street. When I did the count on this block on any given Saturday, there used to be 200 vendors. The cops I talked to say they never displaced nobody. But no one is here [since the sweep]. Isn’t that displacement?”

Tracey Morrison, speaking on behalf of WAHRS’ 300-strong membership, also denounced the City’s move to displace and criminalize street vending. “A lot of us [WAHRS members] do survival vending down here,” Morrison explained, “and it is totally appalling that the City and the VPD is making our community into a ghost town. What they took away from us is our home and I can’t find my friends anymore. The streets are not safe for our members with more police patrolling the street, threatening to throw away our belongings and giving away tickets. This needs to stop. We need to have our streets. We need to have our home back and our community back.”

Morgan echoed Morrison’s concerns about safety and the increased policing of Pigeon Park. “They [the park rangers] said they are here to make the park safer, but when I used to sit and drink in Pigeon Park before the park rangers patrolled it – I was safe. I asked the park rangers last week, what will you do if you see one of my brothers or sisters drinking here and they said, “we will call the cops.” All the illicit drinkers have been displaced from the park – they are not safer and I am not safer. I don’t think they [the police and park rangers] are here to provide safety.”

“When I came here from out East, I was homeless,” said Phoenix Winter of Carnegie Community Action Project. “One of the things I loved about the Downtown Eastside was that, unlike other areas of the city, I could come here, sit and talk to people, hang around and not get pushed out by security or police. It is so sad for me to see how it has changed now. The City said that people who are homeless or just hanging around would not be kicked out or displaced but if you look down the street, it’s empty.”

Phoenix Winter

Phoenix Winter

Last week CCAP conducted a survey with over 60 survival street vendors. According to Winter, “the survey found the vast majority of street vendors are vending because welfare rates are not high enough, because they don’t have housing or are on disability. They are doing street vending to survive. However, because of the crackdown, the vast majority of street vendors surveyed said they can’t make as much money anymore. One street vendor CCAP talked to even said they had to now sell their body as a way of surviving. Instead of feeling safer, the majority of vendors surveyed are worried that crime and violence will increase in the neighbourhood as people are pushed to more and more desperate actions to survive.”

Dishonesty and Broken promises

Grace Eiko Thomson, from the Right to Remain project, talked about the longer history of displacement in the Downtown Eastside.I am a person who at seven years old was expelled from this area together with my family, by the federal government and by the City of Vancouver in 1942,” Eiko Thompson explained. “As a result, I grew up in Winnipeg. I returned here 20 years ago, to what I believe is my home to find the City of Vancouver had totally ignored and abandoned this area for years… and now people here don’t have the right to remain. People down here are discriminated against in a racist way, just like we were.”

Grace Eiko Thomson

Grace Eiko Thomson

Karen Ward added that, “when the mayor apologized for the treatment of Japanese Canadians during the second world war, part of the official motion was that passed in 2013 was a promise that human rights of any group in the city would not be violated in such a way again. I served on the LAP planning committee for the Downtown Eastside and again it was explicitly promised that displacement would not occur in this manner and that the rights of low-income people would be protected. And yet city council continues to let people get renovicted and displaced from our community.”

Doug King, from Pivot Legal, was the final speaker of the day. He outlined his concerns about the City’s approach towards street vending in the DTES. “We feel that the City has been dishonest about what they have been doing here.They have been saying that they are not displacing people and not ticketing people, and what we are hearing is that this is not necessarily the truth. We know that this displacement is real, we know that people have been forced to leave the 0 block and that this is having a profound impact on their ability to survive. We are starting to hear stories from homeless people about the fact that they are being moved not just from the 0 block but now also from the alley ways, where they had to go after the 0 block was sweeped.”

“At the heart of this is the Street and Traffic bylaw,” King elaborated. “We are asking the City to change this bylaw. They need to stop criminalizing homelessness. They need to stop criminalizing poverty in our city. The City has been telling us that it is okay that we have this bylaw, because they are not enforcing it. But what I see is enforcement, and if you are going to have this bylaw and if you are going to enforce it, we need to look at what our options are and whether or not this bylaw is constitutional and whether or not there is a court challenge here that has to happen.”

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We are here to resist

Ward closed the news conference by reiterating “the basic right of poor people to inhabit public space.” She continued, “It is safer for us to survive out here on the streets, with our friends and relations, than it is to be be shunted into the alleys, where the terrible tragedies that have pierced the Downtown Eastside repeatedly because people are not visible to each other.”

“It is important for the diversity of any City to have people who are not rich,” Ward explained. “We are an essential part of this City and we will fight for our right to remain here. We are going to take vending back from the shadows, and reclaim our streets. We are not going anywhere. To our Mayor, our council, the developers, to the powers that be: we are here to resist, we are all here together and we have allies and friends across the city. It is time to get back to work because these are our streets.”

Residents fear opening of Sequel 138 condo project

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Workers on the site of the new Sequel 138 development at 138 E. Hastings (opposite Insite) say that the building should open up in December.  It will contain 79 condos that cost about $250,000 and more, 9 social housing units at welfare rate and 9 social housing units that will rent for BC Housing Income Limits ($912). The development also includes 10 retail storefronts that are selling for around $1 million each, the largest selling for $1.36 million.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of units in the development are unaffordable condominium units, BC Housing has arranged interim construction financing of $21.8 million to the developer. Journalist Mark Hasiuk calls it “the sweetest government deal since 40 acres and a mule.”

At the SRO convention on Oct. 18th, CCAP volunteers and staff asked community members what they thought of this new development.  Here is what some people said:

  • “They don’t like the likes of us around, that’s for sure. As soon as you go in [to gentrifying businesses] they give you a funny look and follow you around as though you’re gonna steal something.”
  • “It’s gonna be a scar on the DTES and probably they’ll have security there too.”
  • “There won’t be any cheap rent any more.”
  • “What are they gonna think of the people who live in the DTES?  There’ll be security there watching every move I make.”
  • “The people who live there are gonna want to get rid of people like us”
  • “It’s not gonna be housing for people down here.”
  • “It’s gonna be high rent and tough to afford.”
  • ”Its out of place.  Too advanced for that neighbourhood.  It only has 9 units for us.  The others won’t be used to what happens on that street.  They come with their dogs and the dogs piss all over the sidewalk.  I live in the Lucky Lodge and there’s a condo place next to it.  The condo residents keep to themselves.”
  • “They don’t care. Who cares about us?”  
  • “The so-called affordable housing is not affordable.”
  • “It should have been social housing.”
  • “Everything is changing too fast.  They’ll probably tear down the buildings on either side.”
  • “It’s gonna be like Alexander St.  The “good” people walk on one side and the not so “good” on the other side.”
  • “Lend me a quarter million and I’ll live there.”
  • “The ‘hood should be for us low income people.  It’s not our fault.  I have hep C and my doctors are here.”
  • “I don’t like it really.  It’s gonna be a high and mighty race coming down here.”
  • “Too much condos; they should care about homeless people first.”
  • “It sucks. It should be social housing.”
  • “It is ridiculous. They are selling the entire downtown eastside to rich people.”
  • “I thought it was for low-income people. Condos on the 100 block is not good.”
  • “It will put Insite at risk of being closed.”
  • “Gentrification is seeping in block by block. The gentrifiers are succeeding. We need housing for low-income people.”
  • “It is going to become like rail town: segregated.”
  • “Why can’t they help us out? We were here before.”
  • “A lot of people will be forced out of the neighbourhood.”

 

New tower at 288 E Hastings

Remember November 12th, if you’re concerned about more expensive rental apartment towers coming to the Downtown Eastside (DTES).  That’s the day of an open house for a new development proposal at 288 E. Hastings, on the west side of Gore Avenue and just across from the First United Church and shelter.

The new local area plan for the Downtown Eastside stipulates that all new developments in the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District (where 288 E Hastings is located) have to be 100% rental and have to contain at least 60% social housing. However, the proposed development at 288 highlights the weaknesses of these zoning requirements. It shows that 100% rental and 60% social housing won’t provide enough social housing units to meet the neighborhood’s need or to deter the further loss of affordable housing in the area.

The 288 proposal is for an 11-storey building with 172 rental housing units. According to the current plan, which could still change, only 34 of the 104 social housing units will rent at the welfare rate of $375. The remaining 70 so called social housing units will rent at the Housing Income Limits rate which is currently $912 a month for a bachelor, but the rate is not fixed and it can rise over time. The remaining 68 units will be privately owned market rental units, with no upper caps on rents.

The proposed units for people on welfare on the first four floors of the building are tiny, at 263.4 sqft, while the more expensive, privately owned rentals on the upper floors would be significantly bigger, at 432.3 sq feet for a studio.

The development will be built through a partnership between BC Housing and the Wall Corporation. The Wall Corporation currently owns the plot and the plan is for Province to buy it from them, construct the building and then sell the retail and market units back to Wall Corporation in order to finance the non-market component. It’s unclear how much profit the Wall Corporation will make in this deal or how much the Province will be subsidizing their profits, if at all.

Will people be able to get a haircut for $8.50 in the new development?

Will people be able to get a haircut for $8.50 in the new development?

However what we do know with 100% certainty is that the retail and the market housing component that will be eventually be managed and marketed by the Wall Corporation – with luxury buildings such as the One Wall Centre under their belt – will be exclusive and expensive.

The Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) is afraid that the new project will help gentrify the neighborhood because most of the rents will be higher than current rents in the DTES.  With higher rents, property values and taxes will go up and rents in nearby SRO hotels could also go up.

The new proposal also requires eliminating several small businesses, like the Golden Wheat Bakery, Lee Loy BBQ meats, the Ferry Market, and a barbershop that serve the low income and Chinese community. The new retail spaces  will also create new zones of exclusion for low-income residents in the neighborhood. 

It looks like BC Housing will be putting at least $15 to $16 million into this project.  With the cost of a new self-contained unit estimated to be about $250,000 in Vancouver, $16 million could build 64 units that people on welfare could afford.  This project, however, will evidently provide subsidies for people who are able to afford $912 a month for rent.

On Nov. 12, CCAP will hold an alternate Open House near the Chinese Cultural Centre, 50 W. Pender, where the official open house will happen between 5 and 8 pm.  Come on down and learn about the proposal and its impacts from CCAP and let the city know what you think on their official comment forms. This proposal does not require a rezoning but does have to be approved by the Development Permit Board at a meeting on Jan. 25 at 3 pm at City Hall.

 

 

CCAP opposes the current viaduct removal plan

 

This Wednesday, October 21st, Vancouver Mayor and Council will vote on whether or not to remove the Georgia Viaducts. The removal of the viaduct down-ramps will free up two city-owned blocks of land located immediately east and west of Main Street between Prior Street and Union Street. It will also open up over 7 acres of Concord Pacific land for condominium development.

Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) is concerned that the current plan will “turn the area into another Yaletown,” to quote CCAP member Victoria Bull. We are also concerned that the development will accelerate gentrification of Chinatown and Downtown Eastside. Gentrification displaces low-income people, breaks up communities, and makes it harder for those who are able to stay.

So far everything indicates that the plan is likely to turn the area into a new Yaletown. According to the staff report, the $180 to $200 million cost of removing the viaducts, will be funded through condominium development-related revenues, including sale or lease of lands in Northeast False Creek and City-owned blocks east of Quebec Street. In other words, the plan to finance the viaduct removal hinges on high-end development and rising land values in the area.

Last year, over 300 Single Residency Occupancy (SRO) units – the last stop before homelessness – were lost as gentrification pushed up the rents in many of the SRO hotels in the Downtown Eastside. It is likely that current plan will accelerate this ongoing loss of affordable housing in the area, while at the same time failing to add new units of social housing to the area.

According to the staff report, the plan is to use this city-owned land to build about 1,000 market units with 200-300 so called “affordable” housing units. However, as CCAP member Fraser Stuart says, “the affordable housing will not be affordable to low-income people. The City’s affordable housing is higher than market rents.”

According to the City, anything that rents below $1,443 per month for a studio, $1,517 for a one-bedroom, and $2,061 for a two-bedroom apartment qualifies as “affordable housing.” This is far out of range for most working class people in the city, and more importantly for the people on welfare who live in the surrounding area and who only receive a total $610 a month, of which at least $375 goes towards rent.

Taken together, the plan as it currently exists is likely to perpetuate the history of displacement on the city-owned sites. The viaducts were built upon the displacement and dispersal of Vancouver’s Black community. In the early 1970’s, the predominately Black community living in Hogan’s Alley was violently expropriated and displaced to make way for the viaducts.

While CCAP opposes the current plan, we believe that it is important that any future planning process is inclusive of former Hogan’s Alley residents, their descendants, and Vancouver’s Black community groups. The viaducts are a testament to past injustices perpetuated by the City, and should be an opportunity to learn from the past and not repeat mistakes over again. Any future plan needs to make sure that development does not come at the cost of continued displacement.