We need homes: By Jean Swanson

The City and Province are trying to create the impression that lots of housing for low-income people is being built in the Downtown Eastside.  Councilor Kerry Jang says that hundreds of new units are coming.

Here are the facts:

  • About 850 Downtown Eastside residents are homeless in shelters or outside.
  • About 5000 people are living in hotel rooms with no kitchen or bathrooms.  Most of these rooms are tiny and have cockroaches and mice.  It is city policy to replace them all with self-contained social housing for low-income single people.
  • Only 24 new social housing units at welfare-rate opened in 2012.
  • About 400 more are planned for the next 2 or 3 years but after that no government funded social housing is planned.

    Picket in front of Pidgin restaurant
    Picket in front of Pidgin restaurant

If DTES homeless people moved into each one of the new units when they are completed, only half would be housed.  Over 400 people would still be homeless.

Plus, we are still losing hotel rooms to high rents from gentrification.  Last year we lost at least 426 units to rent increases at $425 or more.  The people who get pushed out of hotels with high rents need new housing too.  About 7,000 DTES residents are on welfare and disability and get $375 a month for rent. About 3,000 pensioners can only afford the same or a little less for rent.

We can expect that new condos, like the 561 planned for Chinatown over the next 2 years, will push up rents even further and result in more hotel rooms lost to low-income people.

Since 2005, 646 self-contained social housing units have been built in the DTES; about 81 per year.

About 1,500 of the 5,000 hotel rooms were saved from gentrification when the province bought them several years ago.  They still have no private kitchens or bathrooms and are still tiny.  Most of them were full when the province bought them.

Summary: the planned new units will not be enough to end homelessness, or provide for people who are displaced by rent increases in hotels, or replace hotel rooms in a reasonable period of time.  By allowing gentrification without replacing lost housing, the city could make even more people homeless.

This is not about adding new low-income residents to the DTES. It is about providing decent housing for those who live here now.

This is not a good news story.  It is a tragedy that needs immediate government action.

This is the action that would help:

  • The city could rezone parts of the DTES to require a high percentage of social housing at welfare rate.  This would serve to slow down condo development and rent increases in the hotels.
  • The city and province could put in rent controls and put in zero-evictions policies for SRO hotels
  • The city could buy land for welfare rate social housing in the DTES and other parts of the city.
  • The province and federal government could fund thousands of new social housing units across the province.
  • When housing for current DTES residents is secure, more condos could be allowed.

Source:  “We’re Trying to Get Rid of the Welfare People” by Ivan Drury and Jean Swanson, Carnegie Community Action Project, February, 2013  — http://ccapvancouver.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/2012_ccap-hotel-report_web.pdf

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