Downtown Eastside residents are preparing to make their voices heard on a local area plan for their neighbourhood.
The area is one of four undergoing a community-planning process in Vancouver. Proposed plans for a “thin street” pilot project in Marpole and high-rise towers around Commercial and Broadway have been met with opposition from residents.
A group of Downtown Eastside community members said Tuesday (July 16) they plan to be equally vocal as city staff seek feedback this week at two open houses. The events will unveil the city’s “emerging directions” documents for the area, following more than a year of local-area-planning (LAP) meetings featuring representatives from groups across the community.
According to Tami Starlight, one of the members of the LAP committee, one thing that many local residents will be looking for is a plan for housing in the community that includes a definition of social housing.
“It was one of the very first things that we talked about at the very beginning, and it still hasn’t been defined,” Starlight said in an interview with the Georgia Straight following a town-hall meeting at the Carnegie Centre.
According to a City of Vancouver document distributed to members of the LAP committee, areas where changes to existing policies are being considered include the so-called Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District, where a focus on social-housing development with some secured market rental is proposed.
“Consider bonus density for 60% social housing (primarily for singles) with 40% balance as secured market rental housing,” the document reads.
City staff declined to comment in advance of the open houses, where the city’s proposals for the area will be made public.
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users president Dave Hamm echoed Starlight’s concern that social housing be defined in the plan. “The definition: if it doesn’t state that it’s at welfare or pension rates, then it doesn’t guarantee that we’ll be able to afford anything,” he said.
Karen Ward, another member of the LAP committee, noted that people on welfare have a $375 monthly allowance for housing.
“We have SRO [single-room occupancy] suites that are 200 square feet with a broken window and no plumbing, no bathroom, no kitchen, that are going for $475 and up,” she told the Straight.
City councillor Kerry Jang, Vision Vancouver’s point person on housing, said he also wants to see a definition of the type of rental included in social housing.
“Is it social housing that is completely government-subsidized? Is it social housing that’s a partnership between developers and the city and the province? Is it social housing that has mental-health and health supports?” he asked in a phone interview. “You start off with these rough percentages, but then, you know, the devil’s in the details. So that’s what we have to figure out.”
Another member of the LAP committee, Scott Clark, wants to see the city detail its plans for social housing across Vancouver.
“We believe that housing really needs to be targeted in all communities, particularly around schools and community centres,” Clark, who is the executive director of the Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society, said in a phone interview.
The document obtained by LAP members proposes allowing a development height in the range of 100 feet to 120 feet for the Hastings Street and Main Street area, and up to 50 feet in the Oppenheimer Park area, with additional density considered for projects that are 100 percent social housing.
Actions proposed in the document include adopting new social-impact guidelines to advise how potential negative impacts from development can be prevented and how benefits for the low-income community can be generated. The document also proposes a 10-year goal of retaining the existing 2,800 businesses in the neighbourhood and facilitating three- to five-percent growth in businesses.
The City of Vancouver will hold open houses on Thursday (July 18) from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Vancouver Japanese Language School, and on Saturday (July 20) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Strathcona Community Centre.