Vancouver council set to discuss interim guidelines for Downtown Eastside
Community advocates in the Downtown Eastside are set to bring their concerns to city council this afternoon (March 27) around an interim policy that they fear “lowers the bar” for social housing requirements in the neighbourhood.
City staff are recommending that council approve an interim rezoning policy, planning framework and interim development management guidelines while a local area plan is developed for the community.
Kevin McNaney, the city’s assistant director of planning, said the interim zoning policy is intended to “set some basic parameters” for the types of applications the city will consider during a planning process for the area that this expected to take the next year.
“It’s just a way to be clear that we’re not interested in rezoning applications that significantly change the area while we’re doing planning, because we need to focus on what the long-term future is, rather than the short-term,” he told the Straight.
“If people come in for a significant amount of market residential, we have an expectation that there would be at least a majority of it would be social housing at this point, just to be cautionary about the approach, to ensure that we meet our housing objectives in the area.”
But Wendy Pedersen, an organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project and the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, said both community groups have major concerns with the definition of social housing in the Oppenheimer District of the Downtown Eastside, as outlined in the staff report.
The current zoning policy for the district states that 20 percent of any development permit application must be “social housing”. The definition of social housing proposed in the report would require half of those units to cost tenants no more than the shelter component of income assistance. The other 50 percent of social housing units would be required to charge a maximum monthly rent of 30 percent of B.C.’s Housing Income Limits.
“DNC and CCAP are really alarmed that Appendix C, Guideline 1 calls for a definition of social housing that we think will give incentives to the developers to build condos in…the last area which could handle the bulk of social housing that we need in the Downtown Eastside to replace the hotels, and that’s the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District,” Pedersen told the Straight by phone.
The city has not yet received any applications for development in the Oppenheimer District that meet the 20 percent social-housing requirement, aside from the Sequel 138 condo project at the former Pantages Theatre site.
Pedersen and other anti-poverty activists in the community oppose the proposed condo development that they argue will pave the way for displacement of low-income residents and service providers in the area.
“Once the Pantages goes through, that’s the thin edge of the condo wedge into the most vulnerable part of the Downtown Eastside,” she claimed.
The organizer said her group is going to ask council to take the definition out of the report and refer it back to the local area planning committee. Pedersen, who is also co-chair of that committee, said the social housing definition wasn’t discussed at any meetings prior to the release of the report.
The two community groups also have a series of concerns with the interim rezoning policy, she noted, including the statement that any active rezoning applications that have been registered and received a written response prior to the establishment of the local area planning committee in February 2012 will be considered on their own merit.
According to Pedersen’s estimate, that means about 688 units could receive approval to go ahead in the neighbourhood.
“They can’t be stopped by these controls,” she said. “So that already will have a devastating impact on the community.”
According to the report, the majority of the 17,000 people that live in the Downtown Eastside are low-income, with a median household income of $12,000. City information indicates that market residential development in the area is projected to exceed 2014 targets established in the 2005 DTES Housing Plan, while the development of non-market, self-contained rental housing is estimated to fall behind targets by 161 units.
Current rezoning and development permit applications indicate that market development “will continue to out-pace non-market housing development” in the area, the report reads.
Compounding the need for further non-market development, the document indicates, is the fact that the shelter portion of provincial welfare rates has remain unchanged at $375 a month, while just 27 percent of the private SRO stock in the community is renting at that price.
McNaney said while the city hasn’t yet seen the ratio between market and non-market housing go “significantly out of balance”, it has seen increasing interest in market development in the neighbourhood during the last year.
“At this point, it’s not a crisis, but certainly there’s a lot of interest in the area,” he said. “The community is feeling cautious, and we said we’re going to take a cautious approach with these policies as well, while we spend some time having a conversation about the future of the area.”
The local area planning committee arose from a city council directive in January 2011. The group consists largely of low-income community members, and also includes representatives of business improvement associations and cultural associations.
McNaney said he expects the planning process to take about a year. He noted the city intends to engage “a broader community of landowners” through roundtable discussions to examine housing, social and economic development issues.
“All of those will come into play as we talk about the future of this area,” he said.