Vancouver has approved a 30-year local area plan for the Downtown Eastside that drew more than 100 people, including many low-income residents from the neighbourhood, to city hall this week.
Staff recommendations were passed with a series of amendments moved by Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer after council concluded hearing from speakers during a day-long Saturday meeting.
“I believe that it provides the best broad agreement it can in a complex community,” said Reimer, one of two council liaisons to the committee that helped to develop the plan.
“It supports and reflects the legitimate aspirations of the people living in that community…whether it’s protecting low-income assets, whether it’s support for families and seniors and others seeking affordable housing, whether it’s social services for all residents, all ages.”
The revisions include an updated definition of social housing that guarantees at least one-third of new social housing units be rented at the welfare shelter rate, as opposed to the affordability “target” that was previously proposed.
Staff have also been directed to develop a strategy aimed at engaging partners on an aboriginal health and wellness centre, and an advocacy strategy that outlines which aspects of the plan require funding or legislatives changes from senior levels of government.
Tamara Herman, organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project, said the number of Downtown Eastside residents that showed up at city hall to raise concerns about the plan was “a real show of force and strength that is hard for council to ignore”.
Herman noted that while community advocates see the approval of a social and rental housing policy for the Oppenheimer District as a victory, they are disappointed with the outcome of the planning process, including the definition of social housing for new projects.
“We didn’t get what we want—what we want is for social housing to be social housing,” she said in an interview.
"That means that it’s available to people that are on welfare, pension, and very, very poor. So the reality is that although the amendments did strengthen what was on the table on Wednesday, they still only left us with 20 percent social housing for new developments in most of the Downtown Eastside."
Speakers to address council before the vote on the motion included Tracy Tobin, who said she fears losing her home.
"As a single parent now to a child with disabilities, as a single working parent in the mental health field in that same neighbourhood, I live in fear every single day," she said.
"I don’t have housing security....There’s not truly affordable housing barely as it is in the neighbourhood, and this plan is not going to make it any better."
Green councillor Adriane Carr moved an unsuccessful motion to refer the plan back to the local area planning committee for further work on the social housing definition.
“I absolutely believe that at this point, referral makes the most sense,” said Carr. “It is the most respectful thing to do for the community that has been working on this issue with all their hearts for years.”
“There is no 'done' here," said Reimer as the plan was approved. "We have a hell of a lot of work to do to be able to implement this, both at the advocacy level, but also in real time on the ground here in the city of Vancouver."
The long-term plan for the Downtown Eastside outlines objectives for 4,400 new social-housing units in the community, upgrades to 2,200 single-room occupancy hotel rooms, and an estimated 8,850 new “affordable homeownership” units over 30 years.