Re: the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan – Delegation delivered Wednesday March 12th, 2014

To the Mayor and Council of the City of Vancouver,

The Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) would like to express our concerns regarding the proposed “Local Area Plan for the Downtown Eastside” in its current form.

In particular, we will draw your attention to three issues: the definition of social housing, the supply of new social housing, and the improvement of the 4000 privately-owned single-room occupancy hotel rooms.

1) Definition of social housing

It is part of these recommendations before us that the City change its bylaws to strike the definition of low-income housing and change the definition of social housing. The current definitions ensure that social housing is affordable to low-income people, including seniors and veterans. The new proposed definition of social housing includes market housing that low-income people cannot afford.

The existing definitions are on the books only because the people of this city, across the country, indeed around the world, fought for decades for a model of housing that is affordable for low-income people who need it. If this council moves to claw-back the gains of these movements, it will achieve nothing but initiate a new round of struggle to undo what is done here today.

2) Supply of new social housing

It has been long recognized that Vancouver suffers an affordability crisis. The community-led housing movement in the Downtown Eastside, including around Woodward’s, influenced key principles of the Vancouver Agreement and Community Directions process from 2000-2005 and 2005 DTES Housing Plan. While the 2005 Plan called for buying 1 lot or building per year (which was considered insufficient by the community at the time), today’s proposal designates 3 measly lots over 30 years – a further setback.

The 2005 Homeless Action Plan called for construction of 800 new social housing units per year for ten years (8,000) in this town, but this plan before us today is far less ambitious. The exact number of “social housing” homes in this plan are not clear, and the figure of 4,400 over 30 years number is misleading. But this much is clear: a large portion of that number will be at market rates not affordable to low-income people. Worse, much of this number consists of “dispersal” vouchers, and even more is in fact upscaling of existing social housing projects, much like we are seeing at Little Mountain and Heather Place.

3) Improvement of the 4000 privately-owned single-room occupancy hotel rooms

There are 4000 privately-owned SROs in the DTES. It has long been a demand of residents and activists to renovate these units without displacing the community. Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) demanded it through the 70s and 80s, and in recent years the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) and others have reminded us that at the current rate it will take nearly 50 years to improve the conditions of the units.

Today CCAP is calling for the units to be improved within 10 years. But in the plan before us, the main mechanism proposed is: market incentives to transform the units into market rental for wealthier tenants. By relying on the market it will take too long and it will fail to protect tenants against displacement. In fact, the renovations will be paid for by rent-hikes. This is a community-wide renoviction plan of the most vulnerable residents in our city.

COPE believes it is crucial to ensure that all SRO tenants are protected from renovictions, and that every single precious low-income unit remains affordable for low-income people.

To conclude, a guiding principle of planning in the Downtown Eastside has been “Revitalization without Displacement.” As problematic as that concept may be, the document before us today explicitly plans for displacement of 1/3rd of existing residents. That is an appalling change in policy.

Now is the time to renew the fight against displacement and against exploitation of the low-income community by greedy real-estate corporations, who gave over $1 million dollars to Vision Vancouver in the 2011 election campaign alone.

We extend our gratitude to the thousands of residents and activists who have fought for social justice and the principle of no displacement.

Sincerely,

Tristan Markle

The Coalition of Progressive Electors, City Council Committee

COPE’s Letter to City Council regarding the DTES Local Area Plan