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.

 

 

Tyee article about DTES social housing

‘At My Age, All I Expect Is a Place to Live’

In Solheim Place, late councillor Jim Green helped create a Vancouver rarity. Second in a series.

By David Ball, 24 Feb 2015, Tyee Solutions Society
Image for 'At My Age, All I Expect Is a Place to Live'

Solheim Place resident Sam Kiu Chan, 84, looks out from atop her social housing building in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Photo by David P. Ball.

On the rooftop of her seven-storey Union Street apartment complex, 84-year-old Sam Kiu Chan inspects her raised garden beds full of leafy greens.

The sun has just set and the view from atop Chan’s residence of two decades, Solheim Place, is of the warm city lights of old Chinatown beneath a dark blue sky.

With 86 units of purely social housing, and rents set at 30 per cent of tenants’ income before taxes, Solheim Place is one of the largest rent-geared-to-income projects in the neighbourhood. For Chan and the 60 other seniors who share the building with low-income families and people with disabilities, access to guaranteed affordable housing is essential to scraping by every month.

“Seniors now get about $1,000 every month,” she explains. “Rental housing is too expensive… Government housing is more affordable. It’s a bit more secure here.”

Peering over the railing out over the evening cityscape, Chan’s decade-younger friend Lily Tang chimes in by noting the convenience of grocery shopping in Chinatown only a few blocks away. “Also, we can come up here and garden and just get some fresh air.”

Completed in 1992, Solheim Place stands among the affordable housing legacies of the once-prominent anti-poverty organization Downtown Eastside Residents Association. Dissolved after a financial scandal and political pressure in 2010, the association counted two late former city councillors, Jim Green and Bruce Eriksen, as well as retiring MP Libby Davies and Carnegie Community Action Project organizer Jean Swanson, among its earliest activists and alumni.

In the late 1980s, then-DERA organizer Green championed the organization’s role in promoting the large-scale construction of social housing, starting with the Four Sisters Co-op and Tellier Towers and culminating in the controversial, neighbourhood-changing Woodward’s Redevelopment in 2010.

But while Green, Eriksen and Davies’ paths entered elected politics, Jean Swanson remained in community organizing. For her, and for many among today’s generation of activists, new public investment in such purely social housing projects is essential if Vancouver is to tackle its shelter shortfall.

“We need the government to build social housing,” Swanson says, echoing the longstanding demand of the Downtown Eastside residents advocacy group the Carnegie Community Action Project, that the city needs 10,000 new units of dedicated, rent-geared-to-income housing. “The market will not solve the need for affordable housing — it can’t. Until we get a housing program back, I don’t see how we’ll get out of the housing crisis.”

‘The best apartment ever’

In 2007, Holly Gurney and her three children crowded into the decrepit two-bedroom Powell Street apartment she shared with her mother, her teenage sister and her sister’s two babies, often her uncle, and — when he returned from the carnival circuit — her boyfriend at the time.

“It wasn’t a good environment for us,” the 37-year-old Nisga’a woman says, recalling the nighttime screams of neighbours in the throes of severe domestic violence, the shouts of crack users in the building, leaking roofs, rat and bug infestations, and an abusive “slumlord,” as she called him. “It was horrible.”

One day social workers, backed by police, forced her family out of their suite. “They said it was unfit for us and our kids to live in,” she recalls. But much of the rest of Vancouver’s lowest-income housing stock is no better. The family was shuffled around. “They moved us to different shelters, separating us,” Gurney says.

Built in 1992, Solheim Place was one of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association's forays into entirely rent-geared-to-income social housing, offering 86 units fixed at 30 per cent of income. Photo by David P. Ball.As she nurses her new three-month-old in a Downtown Eastside cafe, the now-mother of five originally from Prince Rupert recalls the day in 2008 that her mother told her to pack her things. She’d found them social housing in Solheim Place.

“They had our name on the list because we were in the shelter,” she explains. She pushed hard and persuaded DERA, which managed Solheim at the time, to provide her and her children with their own suite, apart from her mother and sister.

“It was the best apartment ever. It had the best view. I had not one but two balconies, and I had my own laundry. I didn’t have to worry about any bugs in there or anything.”

Most importantly for her, her children finally had “a bigger space to run and play.”

For Gurney, however, the dream didn’t last. Six years after moving in, her three boys started a fire in her unit’s bathroom last year, and her family was evicted. Several months later, the Ministry of Children and Family Development took the boys into custody and she and her teenage daughter shuffled between women’s shelters across the city for months before she finally got her children back and was eventually offered a BC Housing unit elsewhere.

Gurney’s story is a harsh reminder of how precarious housing in Vancouver can be. And even though she’s no longer in Solheim Place, she said the experience of having more breathing room for her growing family there was crucial to her.

A decent security

Solheim Place is named for a retired Norwegian logger who for decades called the Downtown Eastside home. In 1986, 84-year-old Olaf Solheim starved himself to death after being evicted from his SRO hotel room, in preparation for the city hosting Expo ’86.

Anti-eviction activists Jim Green and DERA took up Solheim’s cause and those of thousands of other tenants with few legal protections at the time. And when they opened a new social housing project six years later, DERA named it after the man whose Norwegian name means “house of the sun.”

Unlike DERA’s previous co-op housing initiatives, and Green’s later city partnerships with developers, Solheim represents a third path in affordable home-building: 100 per cent below-market, social housing.

Sam Kiu Chan tours her raised garden beds, where she grows some of her own food and likes to enjoy fresh air. Photo by David P. Ball.And despite being among several projects the province seized from DERA’s control in 2010 following a lawsuit over unpaid debts, Solheim remains a place where rents are fixed at “affordable” 30 per cent levels. The province handed the building’s management to S.U.C.C.E.S.S., one of B.C.’s largest non-profit agencies, that also counts serving the low-income Chinese-Canadian community among its missions.

“The cost of living is rising,” Tang says. “You can’t afford to buy a house. If you don’t have low-income housing, then it’s difficult for ordinary people, not those who have money, to get by.”

For her, the skyrocketing rents in Vancouver underscore the need for government investment into additional social housing projects like Solheim Place. She and Chan pay roughly $400 a month for their apartments here, including phone and cable.

“Because this is government housing, we live a little more securely here,” she says. “We’re not going to be forced out. And because the rent is affordable, we can maintain a decent living. If the government doesn’t look out for ordinary people, then what? How do those people afford to live?”

Both originally from Hong Kong, Lily Tang (left) sits on a rooftop bench atop Solheim Place with Sam Kiu Chan. Out of 86 social housing units, 60 are reserved for seniors. Photo by David P. Ball.On the shadowy rooftop of Solheim Place, Chan and Tang talk about life in the building, of gardening, and shopping in Chinatown. Chan is quick to chuckle when asked about her future here.

“At my age, all I expect is to have a place to live,” she says, with a hearty laugh. “If I’m not forced out, I’ll just live here for the rest of my life.”

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MEDIA RELEASE: Development Fever Threatens the Future of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Chinatown community group calls for a temporary moratorium on market development to protect Chinatown

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News Release

– For Immediate Release –

DEVELOPMENT FEVER THREATENS THE FUTURE OF VANCOUVER’S CHINATOWN

Chinatown community group calls for a temporary moratorium on market development to protect Chinatown

 Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories, January 15, 2015 – The Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) has started a petition campaign, calling on the City of Vancouver to immediately place a moratorium on all new market development projects in Chinatown until there is comprehensive community consultation and clear policies to protect the future of Vancouver’s Chinatown.  

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