Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Street Market may have a new home this summer.
If it moves to a city-owned property intended for social housing and community uses, a coordinator for the group that runs the enterprise hopes that it’s not going to be a simple transfer of location.
Roland Clarke wants to see the peer-run governance of the DTES Street Market Society serve as a model in the management of the future social housing development at 501-533 Powell Street as well as for other initiatives in the neighbourhood.
According to Clarke, the street market, which runs Sundays at Pigeon Park and spills onto Carrall Street between East Hastings and Cordova streets, is completely run by vendors, who are also residents of the Downtown Eastside.
“It’s very representative of the neighbourhood, especially the low-income population,” Clarke told the Straight in a phone interview.
“And from that standpoint, you know, we see ourselves as a possibility…to come up with interesting solutions for what might have gone wrong in the neighbourhood,” he went on before going on about nonprofits operating mostly with government funds to deliver a wide range of services for residents in the area.
“You know, quite a number of these large nonprofits, they employ people to sort of manage or clientize the population, and quite often the employees don’t live in the neighbourhood and they aren’t from the same difficult background that the residents are,” Clarke said. “And it sets up a sort of a client-service model that can sometimes be damaging for people, especially people trying to recover from addiction or gain a sense of self-worth.
“And we believe that the best model is actually a peer-based model, and so we’re leading with…the street market,” the Downtown Eastside resident said. “And we’re hoping that model can be expanded to other things in the neighbourhood, and housing is certainly one of them.”
With respect to social housing in the Downtown Eastside, Clarke said that he wants to see it move away from its current shape of “overly managed social housing”.
According to Clarke, he hears a lot of complaints from residents about many restrictions, including requiring guests to produce government-issued identification.
Earlier this month, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled against Atira Property Management, a business owned by the influential nonprofit Atira Women’s Resource Society, in a case involving a resident in the London Hotel, a provincially owned single-resident-occupancy hotel it manages.
The judge upheld findings by the Residential Tenancy Branch that Atira had no evidence to show that requiring the tenant’s guests to produce government ID is a reasonable restriction under the tenancy law.
Commenting on the typical management of social housing in the Downtown Eastside, Clarke said: “It becomes more of a controlled environment, rather than a real apartment and a real place where they can have a life and family and so forth.”
“And I think that we should encourage…a real community. And I hope that the street market might hope to be a nucleus of that,” Clarke also said.
Comprising seven lots east of Oppenheimer Park, 501-533 Powell was purchased by the city in March. It will serve as a site for social housing, and a “community economic development hub”. An urban farm located at 58 West Hastings, which the city also acquired for social housing, is also seen to be relocating to the same site.
Clarke also said that he wants the site developed into 100 percent social housing for residents on welfare or disability allowance.
Under the city’s current definition, a development is considered social housing if 30 percent of the units are occupied by people who either cannot afford market rent or are on welfare, with the rest of the 70 percent renting for as high as the market can bear.
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang indicated that planning work for the site will start in the next six to eight months.
“We’re going to be doing an enhanced form of community consultation, and having the residents involved in what goes there and how it goes,” Jang told the Straight by phone.
According to Jang, the city’s Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency will take the lead on the project.
“The idea is to find the relationship that works,” Jang said when asked about Clarke’s idea of a peer-run social housing.
“It will depend on the type of affordability we’re able to get into the building,” Jang also said.
On Clarke’s suggestion of a 100 percent social-housing development, Jang stressed that the future development has to be “economically viable”.
“It has to pay for itself in some ways,” jang said. “So they’re going to have to work that out. One key player in that would be the provincial government. If they want all welfare, all low-income, then we’re going to need some subsidy from B.C. Housing or something. That’s just the reality of the situation.”
On May 8, the DTES Street Market Society applied for a development permit to operate its street market at 501-533 Powell Street.
City hall will receive comments about the application until Friday (May 29).