Vancouver council approves long-term plan for Downtown Eastside

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      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.




      Mar 15, 2014 at 10:50pm

      The bigger problem, of course? The lack of social housing and the infrastructure to support it throughout the city as a whole. Would it not make more sense to invest in other areas so that those living in poverty or dealing with substance dependencies would have more places in which to live and work while still having access to the services on which they rely (and on which we, as a city, rely to help them)? The ongoing rejuvenation of the DTES has been an incredible success story over the last fifteen or more years, despite what its critics would have you believe. At some point, though, the city has to look beyond it.


      Mar 15, 2014 at 10:58pm

      DTES should remain a low income neighbourhood. There is enough development everywhere else, just leave them alone.

      Odds Bodkin

      Mar 16, 2014 at 9:07am

      Run for the NPA leadership, it's yours for the taking. Come out of the political closet. Feel better about yourself. Heck, even the Koch brothers recycle now. What puzzles me is how other real Greens put up with your opportunistic antics. Does your 'party' executive agree with your delaying tactics? Prove me wrong, have them reply here. Them and not the nutty WEN trolls.


      Mar 16, 2014 at 10:38am

      I sat on this LAPP Committee for the last year and a half, representing Strathcona residents. To say working on the plan was challenging is an understatement: there was a lot of material, diverse issues and interests to unpack, and thus a lot of disagreement - but the one thing EVERYONE agreed was that there is a housing crisis in the DTES (and the city as a whole).

      All the while, as the committee worked, the backdrop was of development interest circling, bulldozers at the ready: all the big players, Rennie, Wall, Onni, Westbank have been quietly amassing properties around the DTES - so there has been a real pressure to get a plan in place.

      As a result of this pressure, the committee and public were given 2 weeks to review almost 500 pages of final plan, appendices, and reports. Councillor Carr was correct that the community needed more time - at the very least to review some of the substantial material being presented
      and the proverbial devil in the details.

      The real disappointment in this plan and subsequent amendment is "social housing" and how it's defined — for most lay folk the notion of social housing would be largely low-income. In fact, this plan defines it as 1/3 low-income (shelter, pension rate), 1/3 "co-op" rate (i.e.. 30% of income) and 1/3 affordable market (around $1200-1300 for a 1bdr).

      What this means is 20% of new build in the DEOD will be shelter rate, outside (in the areas not specifically exempt) that number will be less than 7% -- to accommodate the immediate need for housing in the DTES then, we would have to massively overbuild and densify this relatively small part of the city, and hope that either senior governments will come to the table with money for housing or that "the market" will take care of it.

      @ACMESalesRep raises the obvious point about housing throughout the City, and indeed the plan includes mention of that - specifically 3,350 Social Housing Units to be built outside the DTES.

      BUT if we are to take the above definition of social housing with 1/3 at shelter rate, and assume 1105 units. THEN compare it to this week's controversial approval of the new Oakridge mini-city, and how much shelter rate housing it delivers, we would need to build 22 new Oakridges to meet the City's target.

      We need to do better than that.

      East Van Lover

      Mar 16, 2014 at 11:35am

      There comes a time when you need to start to deal with the rampant, public substance abuse issues in the neighbourhood. This plan is definitely lacking, but I'd rather this over the big nothing that is going on there right now.

      Save Vancouver

      Mar 16, 2014 at 12:05pm

      Hang on Grandview-Woodlands, you're the next neighbourhood to get Gregored!

      Sid Tan

      Mar 16, 2014 at 2:19pm

      ides of march 2014

      our hope keeps us going
      our fight keeps us strong
      our struggles are endless
      victory comes with no quit

      Inspired and awed by the Downtown
      Eastside warriors, writers, artists
      and minstrels in our midst. We will win!

      Onto the Vancouver election in November...


      Mar 16, 2014 at 3:00pm

      it aint over. we'll let you know when were done

      Save Vancouver

      Mar 16, 2014 at 6:00pm

      @Odds Bodkin: Oh Really?

      "I think that it is duplicitous to include housing far beyond the reach of those at the lowest income levels in a definition of social housing, then set a goal like 60 percent social housing in the DEOD (Oppenheimer District) but only really deliver one-third of that (20 percent) that meets low income peoples' needs"

      Carr doesn't sound like an NPA'er to me.