Vancouver DTES social-housing advocates argue latest city proposals far from solutions

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      A pair of motions going before Vancouver City Council tomorrow (June 25) is expected to bring social-housing projects to two of the Downtown Eastside’s most vulnerable groups.

      Vision councillor Kerry Jang told the Straight that the proposals will likely pass and go towards “filling a niche” in the neighbourhood’s housing needs. Meanwhile, advocates for low-income residents of the area such as the president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) argue that a solution to a lack of affordable housing remains a long way off.

      “It’s great that these projects are coming up and we hope that they do the right thing and put them through,” said VANDU president Dave Hamm. However, he added that there’s a lot more needed in the way of social housing—likely more than the city can ever provide on its own. “It all sounds good, but we’re still really not happy about how things have gone here,” he said.

      The first of the two reports recommends council approve a $220,000 grant for the construction of 22 social-housing units for seniors at 611 Main Street (in Chinatown at the corner of Keefer Street). The money would go through SUCCESS, a social services agency that mainly works with immigrants, and secure 22 units of a 156-unit, 17-storey mixed-use tower planned for the site.

      The second motion concerns a $40,000 grant for the Atira Women’s Resource Society that would provide for the construction of an eight–room hospice at 100 East Cordova Street (at the corner of Columbus Street). Those units would be reserved for women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and who are approaching the end of their lives “due to serious physical or mental illness, addiction and other poverty related illnesses”. The building in question is currently home to 36 permanent residents and a 12-unit emergency shelter, as well as the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

      In a telephone interview, Jang said that the City of Vancouver is working with a group of neighbourhood stakeholders dubbed the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan Committee (LAPC) to improve the area in a way that benefits its current residents.

      “They are trying to figure out where are the best places for development, how much should be dedicated social housing, how much should be rental, how much should be condominiums,” he said. “It is a way of maintaining social housing so nobody is displaced and nobody is moved out, but at the same time, ensuring that there is a renewal of stock that is paid for by private industry.”

      Jang explained that a major challenge is a lack of financial support from higher levels of government, which leaves the city relying on private real estate and development companies to help alleviate affordable housing shortages.

      “How do we incentivize and get private developers to, for example, build something that is profitable, but also get some housing back for it that can be used for low-income individuals?” he asked. “How much should we ask of the development industry of each area for social housing? Is it this percentage or that percentage?…It is a really delicate balancing act.”

      On the phone from VANDU’s head office at East Hastings Street and Dunley Avenue, Hamm told the Straight that he agrees a solution to a shortage of affordable housing in Vancouver will likely require assistance from the provincial and federal governments. He noted that Canada is the only member of the G8 group of wealthy nations without a national housing strategy. But Hamm laid much of the blame for the city’s struggles going it alone at city hall’s own doorstep.

      “We really feel that this civic government has to really step up and start lobbying the provincial and federal governments again, like we did back in the late ‘80s and ‘90s here,” he explained.

      Hamm is a LAPC member currently engaged in negotiations with the City of Vancouver. He was also a lead organizer of a large anti-gentrification protest that more than 200 people attended on June 11.

      According to Hamm, providing affordable housing to low-income residents in the Downtown Eastside will require allocating 60 percent of new real-estate developments for social housing. He said that would meet the needs of an estimated 850 people currently homeless in the Downtown Eastside, as well as provide for the upgrading of 5,000 single occupancy rooms that exist but are badly in need of repair and expansion.

      Hamm noted that the current zoning policies for the Oppenheimer District of the Downtown Eastside state 20 percent of new development permit applications should be classified as “social housing”. But in addition to that number being insufficient to meet the neighborhood’s needs, it’s also not being followed. Hamm claimed there are as many as 24 condominiums going in alongside each unit marked as social housing.

      Jang cautioned that debate around issues playing out in the Downtown Eastside is often fueled by polarized “extremes”. He emphasized that the social housing recommendations going before council tomorrow are a positive step, and proof that the City’s work with LAPC is conducted in good faith.

      “It’s been a long and arduous process,” Jang said. “But it is my understanding they are working on the housing portions right now.”



      An idealist

      Jun 24, 2013 at 7:13pm

      People need to get over themselves and allow for all income levels in all residential buildings. I realize it is not that simple to have happen but the reality is the homeless people of the DTES should be living all over the city not all condensed into one area - with the exception of a few facilities for specific purposes where health monitoring is required - there needs to be more to address homelessness than addiction support etc. Keeping at risk people all living together in one condensed location will only feed the addictions they battle with everyday. If more are surrounded by reasonable healthy open community minded successful individuals and families more will be inspired to do the same. We learn by example and it is up to people of all walks of life to teach this, we can't rely only on governments to step in and provide for our failures as a society.


      Jun 25, 2013 at 2:34am

      To quote Kerry Jang; “How do we incentivize and get private developers to, for example, build something that is profitable, but also get some housing back for it that can be used for low-income individuals?”

      The classic Vision response to every problem is for developers to build more condos. With this approach the developers have won a lottery, while rents have gone up and the shortage of low income housing is worse than ever. But we have a shiny new Trump Tower coming so all is good.

      Alan Layton

      Jun 25, 2013 at 9:07am

      I agree that social housing should be spread around the city and also it's high time that the other alleged 'cities' in the metro area started pulling their own weight and providing for homelessness, instead of having everyone move in to the DTES. The DTES is unique in the extensive amount and quality of care for people and it attracts people in need from everywhere, including places like Surrey, Burnaby and Coquitlam. There have been many stories in the news recently about massive growth and development in these cities and I wonder if they are even going to bother spending some of their vast wealth on homelessness and drug addiction? My guess is that it will be minimal and Vancouver itself will have to shoulder the entire burden.

      Rick in Richmond

      Jun 25, 2013 at 9:07am

      'Idealist' is correct.

      The ghetto concentrates suffering, maintains exploitation, and enables self-destructive behaviors that diminish and kill human beings.

      Willie Pickton chose the DTES for a reason.

      Social housing, within existing structures and as stand-alones, belongs in every area of the city. We tried the concentration model, and we see the results.


      Jun 25, 2013 at 9:13am

      "An idealist", first of all there ARE homeless people all over the city. Secondly, why should poor people not have their own neighbourhood where they feel safe, at home and a sense of belonging? Why aren't you complaining that rich people shouldn't have their own neighbourhoods? When you say, "People need to get over themselves and allow for all income levels in all residential buildings", what are you really saying? Because first of all, poor people can't afford to live in rich people's buildings because the rents are too high. Secondly, in 'mixed' buildings like Woodwards, the poor people can't even ride the elevators with the rich, and they have separate elevators and a separate building entrance. The fact is that when rich people move into a poor neighbourhood, the property values and rents go up. More expensive stores move in that poor people can't affford to shop at. Eventually poor people can no longer afford to live or shop there and they are pushed out. So please, before you continue advocating the supposed benefits of 'social mix' while ignoring the true outcomes for poor people, think about why you believe there is something inherently wrong with poor people to having their own neighbourhood. Please read this report by CCAP, which includes the voices of over 1,200 low-income DTES residents about how they feel about their own neighbourhood, and why it is important to them. Appendix A includes a helpful explanation of gentrification, including words that are used to justify it. I think this particular document should be required reading for all Vancouver residents, especially those who feel inclined to espouse ideas about the DTES.

      Nicholas Ellan

      Jun 25, 2013 at 10:18am

      Great, Westbank is putting 22 units in a 156 unit 17-story tower (that's 14%, not 20%) that nobody wanted to begin with, and that will result in the eviction of hundreds of low-income residents in the neighbouring blocks. As usual, Jang is just making up excuses for his developer friends.


      Jun 25, 2013 at 10:43am

      My business died in 2008. By the beginning 2011 I was done and called up the ministry of Social whatever. They said to go to the DTES because I would get help there.

      After over two years living there it is obvious extremely obvious NO ONE SHOULD BE TOLD TO LIVE THERE.

      In fact the area needs to be razed, torn down period. The hotels need to go. We cannot have huge clusters of poverty and not expect chaos to reign.

      There is no other way, all this social housing is doing is adding to the problem.

      We must tear them down, the new buildings we can keep some of them but the entire area needs to be rezoned and permanent ban on housing that does not contain a kitchen and bathroom IN THE SUITE has to take effect.

      You get two years to leave and find other accommodation (ahem talk to the province not the city) and then we tear them down, leave it fallow for a few years and then build Company Head offices and other economic engines of a modern city.

      Anything else is total bs, there is a lot of hate from many in the DTES towards normal citizens, a extremely large amount that can no longer be tolerated. Surrey Coquitlam etc yes they have to go where the housing is and it is no in the city AND NOT CLUSTER ALL TOGETHER.

      We need to clean the area and this is the only way.


      Jun 25, 2013 at 12:02pm

      Funny how you quote the president of Vandu about how to make the DTES a safer, better place to live when all Vandu is concerned with is making sure everyone has access to their drugs. He's so out of it, he can't make the connection between drugs and the conditions in the DTES, just blames it on other people. Sorry, Vandu has zero credibility.

      Alan Layton

      Jun 25, 2013 at 12:52pm

      Sarah - I've read and heard enough interviews with people in the DTES to know that often they DON'T feel safe and that their neighbours are not always friendly. Don't forget the areas has many people who prey upon the weak and defenseless. I'm sure there are plenty of people down there who would be more than happy to live in a nice, quiet area in other parts of town. You should also stop with your bigoted ideology that non-poor people who live in Woodwards are 'rich'. There are a lot of middle class people who are just renting there - they are NOT rich. It's narrow-minded, hate-mongering people like you who make the problem even worse.


      Jun 25, 2013 at 1:26pm

      I have read CCAP, rabble, mainlander, francesbula and so on and I encourage others who are interested in the gentrification issue (and Vancouver issues more generally) to do the same.

      Sarah, while you make a good point that people deserve a neighbourhood in which to feel safe and wanted, I see two huge logical problems with the position that the DTES should be a social justice zone (i.e. low income housing + whatever else VANDU wants) in perpetuity.

      Please feel free to argue with this - I am far from convinced of my own perfection in this or any matter.

      Anyway, first: by saying that the city should effectively immunize the DTES from the encroaching of rich people, you would have the city establish a policy of segregating amenities by neighbourhood.

      Does that not open the door to designating other neighbourhoods as "for Chinese" or "for rich people" or "for left-handed Episcopalians"?

      Wouldn't you prefer, indeed insist, that a government elected to represent everyone do whatever is in its power to make every neighbourhood a safe place for everyone?

      Second: who are the "poor"? My parents were poor, until they weren't. I wonder if you are conflating the terms "low income" and "struggling with addiction."