Street homeless count doubles despite Vancouver mayor’s promises
By Yolande Cole (Georgia Straight, April 23, 2014) http://www.straight.com/news/632481/street-homeless-count-doubles-despite-vancouver-mayors-promises
The number of homeless sleeping on Vancouver’s streets has increased by 384 people in the last three years, according to preliminary results released today from the latest regional homeless count.
The Metro Vancouver count, conducted during a 24-hour period on March 12, identified a total of 2,770 homeless people across the region, including 957 who were sleeping outside, couch surfing, or using homelessness services.The number of homeless sleeping on Vancouver’s streets has increased by 384 people in the last three years, according to preliminary results released today from the latest regional homeless count. The Metro Vancouver count, conducted during a 24-hour period on March 12, identified a total of 2,770 homeless people across the region, including 957 who were sleeping outside, couch surfing, or using homelessness services.
Raise the Rates – April 1st: A Tour of Two Cities
Anti-poverty activists rally for higher welfare rates
By Yuliya Talmazan (Global BC, April 1, 2014) http://globalnews.ca/news/1244289/anti-poverty-activists-rally-for-higher-welfare-rates/
Dozens of people rallied for an increase to British Columbia’s welfare rates this morning.
The rates remain at $610 a month for an able-bodied single person. The rate goes up to $906 a month for a single person with disability.
“This is no joke, this is not funny. It is the reverse of April Fools’ Day,” says rally organizer Bill Hopwood.
Hopwood says these figures do not take into consideration the various rate increases that British Columbians are faced with starting today, including BC Hydro and ferry rates.
“It’s been seven years since the rates have been adjusted. They were pitiful seven years ago, so with inflation and everything else, it is criminal,” says activist Fraser Stewart.
Global News reached out to the Ministry of Social Development and received the following statement:
“Currently, we are not in a financial position to raise assistance rates in B.C. When setting assistance rates, government is obligated to take a balanced approach between what is fair to individuals seeking assistance and what taxpayers can support.”
CCAP 2013 Hotel Report
Downtown Eastside living space for the needy keeps shrinking, annual report finds
By Kim Pemberton (The Province, Feb. 17, 2014) http://www.theprovince.com/business/Downtown+Eastside+living+space+needy+keeps+shrinking+annual/9517606/story.html
Downtown Eastside housing survey shows rising SRO rents
By Yolande Cole (Georgia Straight; Feb. 17, 2014) http://www.straight.com/news/588551/downtown-eastside-housing-survey-shows-rising-sro-rents
By Jason Lu (Ming Pao, Feb. 17, 2014) http://www.mingpaovan.com/htm/News/20140218/vas3.htm?m=
By Amber Ni (World Journal, Feb. 17, 2014) Online Link
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CCAP on ACCESS TV about the Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) – http://youtu.be/Y1EcOcuoMCA?t=31m46s
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Mixed neighbourhoods not always a good idea
Opinion: Marginalized groups least likely to benefit
By Martine August, Lisa Freeman and Nicholas Blomley, Special to The Vancouver Sun January 2, 2014
Cities are successful to the extent that they bring diverse people, of different backgrounds, together. So it seems to make sense that a healthy neighbourhood is one that includes a mixture of people. Implementing policies that encourage concentrations of people of the same background seems like a bad idea.
This is particularly the case, it seems, when it comes to poorer communities. Many advocate increasing the “social mix” of such neighbourhoods, ensuring that they don’t just contain poorer renters, but also include middle-class homeowners. Social mix is a popular policy, gaining momentum worldwide. Policy-makers believe that socially mixed communities are healthier, safer, and more vibrant, and will attract investment, tourism, and economic development. It is suggested that social mix is beneficial for low-income people, providing employment and social capital, curbing crime and promoting “better” behaviour and neighbourhood reputation. It also appears intuitively appealing: to oppose “mix” is to foster “segregation,” it seems.
It’s not surprising, then, that social mix is often invoked in relation to the Downtown Eastside. Michael Geller, the well-known local architect and planner, has criticized the City of Vancouver’s proposal to require new developments in a small portion of the neighbourhood to be 60 per cent social housing, and 40 per cent rental, a departure from the existing policy that allows for some non-rental market housing. This policy, which is still up for review, contradicts “conventional planning wisdom,” he said, in a Vancouver Sun opinion piece. He’s absolutely correct: it does. But this may not be a bad thing, once we examine the now-extensive academic research on social mix. But simply, the scholarship shows that the supposed beneficiaries of social mix, the poor and marginalized, do not often end up as winners.
While an appealing ideal, the literature points to two big problems with social mix. First, the benefits promised for low-income groups do not materialize. International research examining mixed public housing redevelopment, for example, reveals that improvements in employment, income, educational outcomes, youth delinquency, and health are not achieved.
Even worse, strong social networks and positive bonds of community — common features in low-income areas — are often permanently damaged by efforts to “deconcentrate” poverty and promote social mix. While social mix is believed to foster a more inclusive society, the research-based evidence suggests that marginalized groups are the least likely to benefit from these policies, and may even be worse off as a result of them.
A second problem with social mix involves the ideal of social cohesion. Recent studies indicate that rather than enhancing community, new residents are much less likely to engage in neighbourhood social interaction than longtime low and middle-income residents. When interactions do occur, they are often marked by tensions.
Shattering the “myth of the benevolent middle class,” research finds that higher-income newcomers often use their political know-how and influence to fight against services for the poor, or to target the activities of marginalized people in public space. In some communities, tenants are encouraged not to socialize outdoors, hold barbecues, or allow their children to play outdoors, as these activities offend or frighten wealthier neighbours. Far from fostering social cohesion, these trends speak to unequal power relations and social exclusion.
The problem with social mix is that it assumes an even playing field between people. However, people who have more resources, and stronger property rights, have a clear advantage. The uncritical adoption of social mix in the Downtown Eastside, therefore, could lead to the displacement of the many low-income renters who do not have secure tenancies. Social mix, in other words, could lead to social homogeneity. Ironically, then, creating forms of inclusionary planning that provide some protection for low-income renters, may be the only way in which downtown Vancouver can continue to be socially diverse.
Martine August is a Trudeau Foundation Scholar in the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography & Program in Planning, University of Toronto; Lisa Freeman is a post-doctoral fellow at SFU’s Department of Geography; and Nicholas Blomley is a geography professor at SFU.
2013: THE SOCIAL JUSTICE ZONE AND CITY PLANNING
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) has long been known as the poorest off-reserve urban neighbourhood in the country. That may still be the case, but the invading forces of gentrification are relentlessly occupying it, with ominous consequences for the predominantly low-income residents. The speedball of gentrification was Woodward’s. This massive historic department store was a site of contestation since it closed its doors in 1993. The community fought against various plans for upscale development to preserve it as a space for low-income residents, with social housing, affordable food, accessible services, and other amenities. This struggle culminated in Woodsquat, the occupation and tent city that lasted three months in the fall of 2002. Eventually, the City of Vancouver collaborated with developers, retail businesses, an educational institution, and non-profit housing providers to produce a model of “social mix” that would showcase its vision for the area and set the course for future development. In the run-up to the 2010 Olympic Games, Woodward’s unleashed 536 condo units into the DTES, along with large retail outlets and other businesses, and a satellite university campus (Simon Fraser University’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts). Since then, a number of new condo projects have emerged within blocks of Woodward’s, and over 1,000 market units have been built or are scheduled for construction throughout the DTES. In the shadow of Woodward’s two towers, housing once available to low-income residents has been transformed into condos and high-priced micro-lofts or lost through rent increases. A desk clerk at the Metropole Hotel across the street from Woodward’s succinctly expressed the impact of it when he told a researcher from the Carnegie Community Action Project, “We’re trying to get rid of the welfare people.” As the activists fighting to save Woodward’s for the community knew all along, as Woodward’s goes, so goes the neighbourhood. The floodgates of gentrification have been blown wide open by the Woodward’s “experiment” in social mix and revitalization. In addition to market housing, dozens of new retail businesses now occupy the storefronts along the main arteries of the DTES, offering consumers an array of fine dining experiences, pricey microbrewery beer, expensive furniture, fake suntans, new fashion, and $3 doughnuts. This material transformation of the streetscape is accompanied by a noticeable cultural shift as well. As increasing numbers of wealthy urbanites come into the area to shop or dine, the “frontier” of the DTES becomes a more comfortable and familiar space, and the newcomers’ privilege and entitlement quickly dominate the social terrain. The growing presence of hipsters in the DTES changes what was once known as skid row into the “new community of cool,” with the accompanying disregard or disdain for local residents unable to assimilate to the emerging ethos. In the game of urban transformation, political decision-makers at city hall are key players. With their scripted policy of social mix chiselled in stone, they manipulate the levers of change by deploying various mechanisms of zoning, permits, and licensing to promote upscale development on the ground.
Vision Vancouver, despite its brand image as a progressive municipal party, has up-zoned Chinatown to pave the way for a flood of condo towers and has approved a massive project of 282 market housing units and 70,000 square feet of retail and light industrial space on the eastern edge of the DTES (dubbed “Woodward’s East” by local residents), all in the face of significant opposition by the low-income community. Not surprisingly, this is the project of Vancouver developer Wall Financial, which has close ties to Vision Vancouver and has contributed, through its subsidiaries, over $200,000 to the party’s coffers. Although Vision Vancouver has implemented a Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) and engaged some low-income residents within that strategy of community consultation, they have, in the midst of the process, given the green light to hundreds of condo units and numerous businesses, including “Woodward’s East.” Herb Varley, a young Indigenous resident and activist in the DTES and co-chair of the LAPP committee, poignantly expressed his own frustration with the process: “After two years of working with the City I wonder what we have been included in. It feels like the only questions we get to answer are about how we would like to die, slow or fast, not whether we want to live.” As the LAPP winds down and the city prepares its final report, the low-income members of the committee have issued a call for a social justice zone in the DTES that would prioritize the needs of low-income residents for housing, adequate income, non-discriminatory services, and improved safety. The city’s policy of rampant gentrification and the discursive logic that accompanies it are amplified and disseminated by the mainstream media. Last February the sustained anti-gentrification protests outside the posh PiDGiN restaurant provoked a spate of media coverage, the vast majority of which voiced full support for the restaurant owner and disdain for those who opposed efforts to “clean up” the neighbourhood. Historically, the mainstream media have played an important role in popularizing the dominant poor-bashing, stigmatizing perspectives of the neighbourhood while applauding the courage of “socially conscious” entrepreneurs and consumers in bringing positive change to the “blight” of the DTES.
As real estate developers, retail business owners, municipal politicians, city planners, and media pundits promote the gentrification agenda and shape public policy and perception accordingly, police and private security ensure that those whose lives are most disrupted and harmed by these massive changes do not disturb the new inhabitants and their economic and social investments. The DTES is the only district in the city with its own specialized (and filmed-for-reality-TV) Beat Enforcement Team; here, police presence is relentless, and surveillance, harassment, and ticketing are epidemic. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users has frequently voiced concern about the ways the area is being “mined for crime,” and recent data has revealed that in the past four years, 95 per cent of the city’s bylaw tickets for street disorder violations – including jaywalking, vending, spitting, and urinating in public – have been issued in the DTES. In addition, business improvement associations hire private security companies to harass panhandlers and sex workers in order to maintain an atmosphere that ensures comfort for condo owners, business operators, and their patrons.
Of course the fallout of gentrification on low-income DTES residents is devastating. Upscale real estate development drives up property values and produces a domino effect of increasing rents and renovictions. The end result is involuntary displacement and homelessness. For those who struggle to pay escalating rents, financial strains translate into mental and physical stress, and personal health deteriorates. The rapid emergence of retail businesses proliferates zones of exclusion that are inaccessible and unwelcoming to residents on limited income and exacerbates the experience of alienation and dislocation within one’s own neighbourhood. Necessary strategies of survival entangle low-income people in the criminal justice system, or they are coerced into carefully managed regimes of medical and therapeutic support that operate as systems of social control. As gentrification transforms physical space and social relations to further elite interests, life-giving networks of care and support that low-income residents have developed and relied upon for years are threatened or disrupted, and displacement from the neighbourhood produces greater isolation and impending violence. A community that has been characterized by remarkable acceptance morphs into a place where non-conformity to the status quo is made more visible and deviance elicits increased efforts at management or removal. Demarcations between “good” and “bad” poor are heightened and manipulated by organizations, service providers, and dominant media to serve their own ends.
All of these pressures of transformation produce increasing conflict at many levels: between the new condo owners and wealthier consumers and the low-income residents, between those who can navigate the social changes well and those who feel alienated and desperate because of them, between those engaged in daily survival and the managers and enforcers of civil order. Fundamentally, gentrification in the DTES replicates the dynamics of colonization. It’s a strategy of accumulation by dispossession that is rationalized by paternalistic notions of benevolence (“we’re improving the neighbourhood”), normalized by hegemonic, state-supported market logic (“it’s the natural evolution of progress and healthy change”), and reinforced through ideologies of gender, race, and class hierarchies (“we [mostly white wealthy men] know best”). Like colonization, gentrification is a process of immense violence inflicted on the bodies, minds, and spirits of those who are deemed in the way of political and economic power. But the DTES low-income community is remarkably resilient and strong. It is rooted in a history of collective struggles for social justice. It’s a community that has engaged in confrontation, agitation, and determined resistance against the forces that have threatened its vitality. It knows that capitulating to the gentrification agenda will only result in more humiliating charity, more bureaucratic regulations, more social control, more displacement, and more homelessness, and it says, no!
This spirit of resistance is also accompanied by clarity of vision. The refusal to be dominated by elite political and economic interests is fuelled by a vision for the neighbourhood grounded in the lived experience and collective wisdom of the low-income community. It is a vision of social justice, mutual care, and human dignity; it’s an inextinguishable affirmation of life and freedom. The DTES is the heart of the city, and it will continue to beat strong despite the pressures of gentrification brought against it.
August 13: Grandview Woodlands Area Council Meeting On August 13th, LAPP Committee members Karen Ward and Rob Morgan joined reps from four other neighbourhoods to talk about local area plans across the city. For a report back, read the article below, Hoods Against Displacement Towers or A New Spin Cycle.
July 18: CBC Early Edition CCCA President Gena Thompson on the DTES Local Area Plan http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/Local+Shows/British+Columbia/ID/2397338130/ June 11: The Social Justice Zone Rally
Planning leader joins march against Downtown Eastside gentrification
Herb Varley voices frustration over approval of 1,000 condos with only 24 units of social housing
“Homes, not condos! Homes, not jails!” chanted 29-year old Herb Varley at the head of yet another raucous demonstration against gentrification and the lack of social housing on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Such protests by low-income activists and residents have become commonplace, as condo projects go ahead and upscale businesses begin to open in an area where many are homeless and few have money. But Mr. Varley was no ordinary protester. He is co-chair of the city’s ambitious, three-year effort to devise the first, broad-based community plan for the complex, ever-troubled enclave. And his presence on the streets Tuesday was yet another indication of just how difficult it is to forge consensus in the DTES, where businesses, diverse special interests, and residents, not all of whom are low-income, jostle to be heard. While Mr. Varley said he is staying on as co-chair of the DTES Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) for now, he is increasingly frustrated by the way things are going. “One thousand condo units have been been approved since we began working on the LAPP, and 24 units have been set aside as social housing,” Mr. Varley said. “Every single condo unit that gets approved shows bad faith, so we’ve had 1,000 shows of bad faith, versus 24 shows of good faith. I am frustrated.” The deadline for LAPP to forge its community plan is November. The plan will focus on housing, health and social services, the local economy and public space. Low-income representatives comprise a majority of the 30-member LAPP committee, which also includes other community groups and three business improvement associations. Michael Clague, who co-chair’s LAPP with Mr. Varley, said the fact the plan is still on track and making progress is remarkable, considering the history of division on the Downtown Eastside. “This is the first attempt to knit everything together, and we’re still in business, to everyone’s surprise,” said Mr. Clague. “It’s been hard, but there there has started to be communication. Groups are listening to each other.” He agreed that enhanced market activity in the area is a problem. “The market does what the market does, and we are trying to figure out how the city can have some control over the pace of activity.” Still, Mr. Clague said he was unhappy that Tuesday’s protest included LAPP members styling themselves as an “anti-gentrification caucus” of the committee. “We need to know what our members are doing, so we’re not caught off guard. If there’s an action you’re about to take, you should share it with your committee colleagues,” he said. “Even if they’re not protesting as LAPP, it’s better if they are inside the tent.” Mr. Varley, however, defended his actions. “For me, being co-chair of the LAPP was never contingent on me giving up my activist proclivities,” he said. “Things move very slowly at times, so this is also a bit of a pressure release for the community.” Added long-time anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson: “By doing this, he is increasing his credibility with the community he represents.” LAPP committee member Victoria Bull also spoke at the demonstration, ripping into B.C. Housing for “doing nothing” for low-income people on the Downtown Eastside. But like Mr. Varley, she has no immediate plans to quit LAPP. “I want to see what they produce in November,” said Ms. Bull. No one from the city was available for comment, but in an e-mailed statement, communications manager Sandy Swanton said all sides are now discussing the plan’s most critical issue, housing. The issue is complicated by the fact that senior governments “are not signalling any new funding for social and supportive housing,” Ms. Swanton’s e-mail said.
Large protest voices opposition against gentrification of the Downtown Eastside
by Travis Lupick on Jun 11, 2013
Large protest voices opposition against gentrification of the Downtown Eastside
More than 200 people gathered at the corner of Main and Hastings streets today (June 11) to voice their opposition against the gentrification of the Downtown Eastside. They carried signs and chanted slogans calling for affordable housing. Several speakers placed an emphasis on the rights of aboriginal people, and argued that a lack of affordable housing contributes to high levels of violence against women. Herb Varley, a resident of the Downtown Eastside who served as an MC for the demonstration, told the Straight that rising rents are forcing many low-income earners out of the area they consider their home. “Many people who I’ve talked to, they’ve said that in other neighborhoods, they don’t feel welcome and that they don’t have a connection to those neighborhoods,” Varney said just before the protest got underway. “And then they came down here and they found themselves and they found a community… but now they’re being forced to leave.” Varley, who also goes by the Nisga’a name Gwin Ga’adihl Amma Goot, is a member of the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Process, which is working with the City of Vancouver to improve the quality of life in the area. But he said he’s dissatisfied with that process. He claimed that while more than 1,000 condos have been approved for the few blocks immediately surrounding the Carnegie Community Centre, less than three dozen affordable housing units have been made available in that same area. “We’ve been asked to work in good faith, but every condo unit that comes and gets approved is a show of bad faith,” Varney explained. “So we’ve had a thousand shows of bad faith versus two dozen shows of good faith, with maybe another 12 still up in the air. That’s not a very good ratio and we are understandably upset about that.” After approximately 20 minutes blocking the intersection of Main and Hastings streets, the group of demonstrators moved one block east, to the BC Housing office at Hastings and Gore streets. There, a number of speakers expressed frustration with what they described as that office’s failure to provide affordable housing in the Downtown Eastside. As the march moved back west along Hastings Street, Ivan Drury, one of the event’s organizers, told the Straight that he has participated in the city’s Local Area Planning Process for two years and has yet to see the initiative make any difference in the Downtown Eastside. “People are here today because being included in a planning process is not enough,” Drury said. “People are here today because we need justice, not accommodations for the real estate market.” “The voices of low income people are being marginalized,” he added. Addressing a group of Downtown Eastside advocates in April 2013, city manager Penny Ballem said that affordable housing and related issues are a “major focus” of the city. “The city is working very hard to leverage all the opportunities that we can to improve housing for low-income people, to renovate and rehabilitate housing, and there’s a lot of work still to be done,” she emphasized.
2013: MEDIA INTERVIEWS ABOUT GENTRIFICATION Ivan interviewed on CBC On the Coast, February 18 Ivan interviewed on the Phillip Till show, CKNW, February 21, 6am slot (select and scroll to 6:38am) Jean interviewed on CBC Early Edition, February 25 (scroll to 2:11:15) Ivan interviewed on CBC “The 180,” Friday March 1 Ivan interviewed on Co-op radio “The Rational,” March 4 (first interview) NEWS ABOUT CHINATOWN CONDO REZONINGS Jean Swanson, “Don’t displace the soul of Vancouver.” Ivan Drury, “The lesson from Woodward’s is that condos in Chinatown are a low-income extinguishment project” Metro News, “Vancouver’s changing Chinatown” Globe and Mail, “Buildings to soar over Chinatown after Vancouver eases heights” Georgia Straight, “Vancouver city council set to consider 16-storey development in Chinatown” CBC / Huffington Post, “Vancouver homeless advocate raps Chinatown development” Vancouver Sun, “17-storey mixed-use tower approved in heart of Vancouver’s historic Chinatown” MEDIA COVERAGE ABOUT INCOME INEQUALITY Georgia Straight, “BC NDP’s poverty platform still unclear.” Vancouver Sun, “Activists rally at Vancouver aquarium for higher welfare rates.”
Downtown Eastside living space for the needy keeps shrinking, annual report finds