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/

CCAP has a new job posting–feel free to pass it on

CCAP Job posting:  administrator and community organizer

 

The Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) is looking for an administrator and community organizer to work with their volunteers to help low-income Downtown Eastside residents implement their Community Vision for Change and to ensure that decisions about the future of the community build on community assets. This includes working for more and better housing, higher welfare rates and to stop gentrification. This is a two day per week position through December, 2015 with the possibility of extension.

 

Administration

  • Manage and track budget with support from accountant
  • Manage funding and year-end funder reports
  • Coordinate CCAP employee and volunteer team
  • Raise funds

 

Maintain CCAP website and Facebook page

 

Publishing & speaking (In collaboration with experienced volunteers)

  • Speak and support others to speak at meetings, events, classes, city hall, news events
  • Write bulletins & newsletter articles and layout newsletter

 

Community meetings & actions (In collaboration with experienced volunteers)

  • Track actions of city hall, province and federal governments and coordinate response statements with other staff and volunteers
  • Support volunteers to act and speak out for their community, developing leadership capacities.
  • Organizing low-income residents to attend rezoning and development application hearings and to speak out through other venues like news conferences.
  • Attend weekly CCAP volunteer meetings

 

Research: Help with producing CCAP’s annual hotel and housing report

 

Support: Help low income volunteers get what they need to keep volunteering


Desired experience:

  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability to use computer for research, emails, formatting flyers, posters, etc.
  • Web or blog design skills
  • Good people skills
  • Grant writing and reporting
  • Facilitating workshops
  • Media/communications
  • Developing campaigns for social justice with community groups
  • Ability to work in a team and on own, and with a community board
  • Research on housing, income, and/or planning issues
  • Knowledge of city planning processes
  • Experience working in the DTES

 

Pay is $21 an hour gross.

 

Only people who are to be interviewed will be contacted. Thank you to everyone else for your interest.

 

The job will start when the candidate is available.

 

Please submit resumes by email with a half-page essay on the causes of homelessness and two references who are familiar with your work by July 21 to:

 

Jean Swanson
Carnegie Community Action Project
email:  jean.swanson@gmail.com

 

Please keep the entire application, including covering letter, in one email file.

 

People who are Indigenous and residents or community members of the Downtown Eastside and people who can speak Cantonese/Mandarin are encouraged to apply.

 

Applicants are encouraged to check out this website before applying:

https://ccapvancouver.wordpress.com/

 

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.”

The Fight that Unites Us

Although Chinatown is officially part of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), it is generally understood to be a separate community. It reflects the barriers between the English-speaking members and the Chinese-speaking members of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) low-income community, the most significant of which is language. Without the ability to communicate verbally with each other, there is a lot that each group does not know and understand of the other. And most sadly, a lot of stories, past and present, are unknown to members of the other group.

 

Thankfully, the barriers aren’t impenetrable. After all, the two communities do live in the same neighbourhood, on the same unceded Coast Salish territory. They live together in Chinatown – in Single Room Occupancy hotels (SROs), social housing, co-ops – and they also take part in activities together at the Carnegie Centre. In spite of some negative interactions, there are also positive ones in the food lines as well.

 

It is really important to remember the immense diversity within each of these “communities,” such as the Indigenous community, the Latino community, and various Chinese communities that speak different dialects, so please forgive me for seemingly lumping everyone into simply two groups of English-speaking or Chinese-speaking.

 

However, when comparing the two groups, drug use appears to be a significant issue for members of the Chinese community, who don’t understand drug use and see it in a negative light. Part of the reason is likely because there is a language barrier and so the influence of Chinese mainstream media – which often neglects the stories of trauma and abuse behind drug use – is strong.

 

But while recognizing these differences in opinions and worldviews, I hope that we don’t miss the obvious fight in front of us. Living in the same neighbourhood means both groups are facing gentrification right now. In the same way how the Woodward’s redevelopment project (with 536 condo units) led to the loss of over 404 low-income units within a 1-block radius due to rent increases, the future of hundreds of SROs and low-income housing in Chinatown is at stake, as there are 768 more market-rate housing being built (including proposed projects; see “Update: Development Projects in Chinatown” in this newsletter).

 

We know that both communities are being attacked by the same force by looking at the marketing (videos, photos etc.) for the condo projects that being built in the neighbourhood. The low-income community – English-speaking and Chinese-speaking – are altogether erased. There is no one pushing a shopping cart with their belongings around. There are no Chinese community members shopping at the grocery store on Georgia St. or the herbal store on Pender St. This is the vision that the developers have for Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside.

 

The two groups will have many differences because everyone has their own story, background, and experiences. But I hope that the two groups can build stronger bridges of understanding as well. Right now, those who are part of the DTES and Chinatown community are all threatened by gentrification and its destruction on our community – displacement due to rising housing rents and the retail transformation of our neighbourhood, especially for Chinatown, which is on course to disappear unless we fight for it. Members of the Chinese community are calling for a moratorium on development in Chinatown and to require all development projects to include at least 50% social housing for low-income people. This is the fight that unites us – against gentrification, housing for the low-income community, and for Chinatown.   -km

Letter to the City: The Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest

RE: SRO Convention Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest

Dear Penny,

On October 19th 2014, CCAP announced the winner of its Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest at the DTES SRO Tenants’ Convention. For three weeks leading up to the event, we collected nomination forms for the SRO with the worst living conditions from residents. We received a total of 325 nominations. The winning hotels were:

  • First Place – The Balmoral Hotel: 93 votes
  • Second Place – The Regent Hotel: 49 votes
  • Third Place – The Cobalt Hotel: 21 votes

CCAP staff recently visited ten hotels, including the three “winners”, and many are quite obviously not meeting the city’s Standards of Maintenance Bylaw. Although we noticed the Regent is in slightly better shape than it was last year at this time, the hotels still have plugged toilets and filth in washrooms, halls, baseboards, around radiators, on windows, and in common areas. There was blood on the wall of the Balmoral when we were there during the week of October 13th. Roaches are still rampant.

Balmoral bathroom

One of our many “dirty toilet” pictures. This is the Balmoral, owned by the Sahotas.

 

As you know, the tenters at the Oppenheimer Park Tent City often said that camping was better than living in an SRO. Our contest results and our own SRO visits showed us why this was the case. At our SRO tenants Convention on October 19th, people made the following comments about SROs:

  • “All SROs should be demolished. They’re full of rats.”
  • “Those places are so deplorable. Women experience sexual assaults, doors get kicked in, very unsafe, cockroaches, bedbugs and rats.”
  • “Lots of bugs, different kinds. Lack of security and safety for tenants.”

The message from the Tent City campers and people who attended the SRO tenant convention is that forcing people to live in these conditions is dehumanizing. We are convinced that you would come to the same conclusion if you walked through one of the “winning” hotels.

Holborn clean

Cleanliness is possible! This toilet at the Holborn is a shining example that SROs can be cleaned.

Not all hotels are filthy. The Patrick Anthony, St. Ehlmo’s and the Holborn, for example, were in fairly good shape. These cases prove that SROs can be well maintained.

The action that the City is taking to improve the standards of maintenance in SROs is grossly insufficient. We are happy that the City has placed the West and the Regal under non-profit management. Since all the winners of the Crummy Cockroach Haven Contest belong to the Sahotas, CCAP is asking the city to impose non profit management on the Balmoral, the Cobalt and the Regent. Over 300 human beings have been putting up with poor conditions in their buildings for far too long and its time for action that works.

For the rest of the hotels, it is clear to us that annual inspections are not enough. Hotels may clean up prior to their inspection, but for the rest of the year tenants have to live in deplorable conditions. Inspections should be monthly and rigorous. The City should apply pressure on landlords until deficiencies are addressed. Attached is a list of Standards of Maintenance bylaw sections that were commonly violated in some of the hotels we walked through in the weeks prior to the SRO tenant convention.

Sincerely,

Jean Swanson and Tamara Herman

Carnegie Community Action Project

Click here for our “photographic evidence” of our SRO visits

Hotels visited by CCAP staff in October: Balmoral, Regent, Cobalt, Belmont, Holborn, Patrick Anthony, Vernon, Hildon, Empress, Clifton.

Quotes from Standards of Maintenance Bylaw and our field notes on conditions in hotels during week of Oct. 13.

13.1 (1) Floors shall be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition,

  • Rugs are disgusting in Cobalt, Vernon, stairwells of Hildon.

(5) Rooms containing sanitary facilities shall be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition and provided with a smooth surface reasonably impervious to water or chipping or cracking on the walls and ceilings

  • Photos provided of filth and plugged toilets in Empress, Balmoral, Regent.
  1. c) that adequate supplies of hand soap and toilet tissue shall be available

at all times to lodgers in shared sanitary facilities,

  • Didn’t see hand soap in any of the washrooms in any hotels.

21.5 Every lodging house keeper shall provide a laundry room or other room with a minimum area of 50 square feet (4.6 m5) equipped with an electric washing machine and an electric or gas dryer, except that this clause shall not apply where the lodging house operator provides a laundry or dry-cleaning service for tenants and guests.

  • Does every hotel have a laundry room? Didn’t see laundry rooms in all hotels, or any notice offering laundry services.

21.10 Every lodging house owner shall at all times keep or maintain the lodging house:

(a) in a thoroughly clean and sanitary condition, including windows and lightwells;

  • Six of the hotels we visited were definitely not thoroughly clean and sanitary, as evidenced by the windows and lightwells. Some of the windows were so dirty that we couldn’t see outside through parts of them. Mold and grime is in washrooms, halls, along baseboards, by radiators, etc. The dirtiest hotels were the Balmoral, Regent, Cobalt, Vernon, Empress and Clifton. The Holborn and Patrick Anthony were satisfactory.

(b) free of pests, including insects and rodents;

  • We saw roaches climbing on the walls at Balmoral, Regent and Empress.

(f) sinks, toilets and bathing fixtures in good working order and repair.

  • We took pictures of toilets that were obviously not in good repair at the Empress, Balmoral, Regent

21.18 Every lodging house operator shall:

(d) provide sufficient maintenance staff to perform room cleaning as well as cleaning of all common use areas, as often as required to keep in a clean condition,

  • If this is happening, why are the places so dirty? Is one of the problems that the maintenance staff are being paid less than minimum wage? Tenants tell us that this is a problem.

22.1 In all cases, where new materials are being applied, or repair work is being carried out, the installation of such materials and/or any repair work shall be carried out in a good workman-like manner and finished to standard acceptable to the City Building Inspector.

  • Often tenants tell us that building owners don’t pay minimum wage and work done is not up to standard.