Downtown Eastside social impact assessment describes community fears of gentrification

A social impact assessment produced for the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan (LAP) paints a picture of a community deeply worried that it is about to lose its home.

A 101-page draft obtained by the Straight on February 21 presents a variety of concerns from low-income residents that range from losing social services to feeling alienated as high-end shops and restaurants move into the neighbourhood.

“There has been increasing market pressure to develop the area due to its close proximity to the downtown core and comparably lower land values than elsewhere in the city,” the report states. “An increase in market condominium development has brought new, high-income households to the predominantly low-income community.”

It continues: “The biggest fear residents have about housing is that they will lose their current housing or be displaced from the neighbourhood due to new development and rising rents caused by gentrification.”

The social impact assessment notes that the DTES saw a 303-percent increase in property values between 2001 and 2013. It also states that a “steady flow” of development permits were issued during that period at a rate of 38 annually. New projects were accompanied by shops and restaurants catering to moderate and high-income patrons, it adds.

“These trends are raising concerns about the future of the neighbourhood for low-income residents and local small businesses that serve them,” the report states. “Residents are concerned with the pace of change and ripple effects of new developments in the neighbourhood and the impact they have on the community—especially the most vulnerable who feel the impacts most directly.”

The DTES Local Area Plan—which will be used to inform policy decisions and development for the next 30 years—is scheduled to go to Vancouver city council on March 12.

Officials have said that the social impact assessment will be made public before the end of the month. The Straight previously reported that Downtown Eastside community leaders have argued that does not leave enough time for people to review the document before the larger Local Area Plan goes to council.

City hall has invited members of the media to a “technical briefing” on the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan scheduled for February 27.

Staff involved in the LAP process declined requests for an interview and referred questions to the upcoming media briefing.

The social impact assessment purports to include the views of some 600 residents, many of whom are low-income earners or otherwise identify with vulnerable groups.

It’s separated into four key sections:

  • Identifying community assets
  • Assessing potential impacts of development
  • Managing community assets and impacts
  • Monitoring community assets and impacts

It concludes with a strategy that’s described as intending to “mitigate, monitor and evaluate community assets and social impacts in order to maximize beneficial opportunities for vulnerable populations and low-income residents and minimize negative impacts which may reduce the quality of life for DTES residents.”

The assessment includes a detailed breakdown of housing and social services available in the Downtown Eastside.

It states that over the course of the last decade, the total number of housing units in the area has increased from 11,9000 to 15,300, and that market housing options have grown faster than others.

The report also notes that despite significant increases in the numbers of single-room occupancy dwellings, SRO vacancy rates have nevertheless decreased.

In addition to housing, the report includes detailed sections on the current states of livelihoods, health and wellbeing, child vulnerability, safety, and development in the Downtown Eastside.

In a section on community assets, the assessment identifies dozens of specific health and social services.

“The biggest fear around social and health services and resources is that they will be shut down as a consequence of new development and that vulnerable people will suffer as a result,” it states. “Some people fear that the health and social services they rely on may be moved outside the DTES and that they won’t have enough money to take the bus to new locations.”

The report also acknowledges valued public spaces that residents worry they stand to lose as the area gentrifies.

“The street, itself, is a vital asset for many low-income people,” the report notes. “Various streets and intersections are known as community ‘hearts’ for the low-income community and there is a strong desire to protect those spaces.”

It continues: “There are many fears in the neighbourhood concerning the loss of special places and growing feelings of exclusion from neighbourhood spaces. There is also a certain level of discomfort with the high-end aesthetics and décor of new spaces and with the perceived demeanor of new residents who appear to have higher incomes.

“People fear losing the sense of community that exists in the DTES and being displaced,” the report states.

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Feb 26, 2014 at 4:48pm

The DES is under the control of people who wish to maintain the suffering: reducing it would mean less taxpayer money and for some it would be contrary to their ideological fantasies. I would wager that most "community fears" were stoked by those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.


Feb 26, 2014 at 6:16pm

The LAP seems to address these fears -- which are legitimate. But why is it always an either/or proposition? Why can't the DTES have vibrant, local small businesses, more housing for families along with a concerted effort to develop and maintain low-income housing. The tax base from business and condos can fund social housing. I wish to live in just such a mixed neighbourhood. No one benefits from continued decline. The drug trade in the DTES harms my neighbours and harms my community far more than upscale restaurants ever could. The city can bring in more families, middle class and low income, encourage business that serve a range of residents and it does not have to be at the expense of the present DTES community. That's what good policy does. As far as I can see, the LAP offers such a policy. I know residents mistrust the word "development." But there can be positive development in the DTES if there is the political will and with the support of residents.


Feb 27, 2014 at 9:30am

People who are for gentrification (and I am, with caveats) should relax. Obviously it is going to happen. Not only is there money to be made, but in the overall scheme of things, making an area safer, cleaner, and more productive is just good.

The question is now whether it happens, but how.

This DTES local area plan seems to be pretty well thought out and researched. I hope the information sessions are packed and that questions get answered.

Fear of change, even if it is good change, could have ugly consequences.