A 5-point plan to make the DTES a Social Justice Zone: By the Editors
We acknowledge that the Downtown Eastside occupies the unceded territories of the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam and Squamish Coast Salish nations.
The future of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) is being made by super rich real estate investors and developers who are profiting off changing the neighbourhood from a place where low-income people feel at home into yet another fashionable strip mall. While city planners fuel the engines of real estate corporations by approving boutique condo towers, 5,000 people are living in increasingly expensive SRO hotel rooms that are unhealthy, bug/rodent infested and lacking kitchens/private bathrooms. As these SRO hotels become unaffordable, more and more people are pushed out into the streets and shelters. This housing crisis forces Indigenous women, children and others vulnerable to violence to live in danger and isolation. Gentrification, as a displacement pressure, is making these crises worse and, we fear, soon irreversible.
For two years, low-income Downtown Eastside residents have been working on a Local Area Plannning Process (LAPP) that the city promised would “improve the lives of those who currently live in the area, particularly low-income people and those who are most vulnerable,” as stated in LAPP’s Terms of Reference. That’s why we got involved. However, after 2 years of consultations, there’s no evidence that the city plans to stop gentrification, which is displacing low-income residents.
Therefore low-income residents have created a set of specific policies for a SOCIAL JUSTICE ZONE that would bring our vision of our neighbourhood to life:
1. NO CONDOS BEFORE LOW-INCOME PEOPLE’S HOMES Use zoning laws to keep all condos and real estate speculators out of the DTES Oppenheimer District until the SROs are replaced and the homeless are housed in social housing. In the Hastings Corridor and Thornton Park, use zoning laws to make 2/3 of all new developments social housing for people on welfare/pension and also the working-poor. Protect DTES spaces for social housing and advocate for senior government housing programs.
2. REVERSE THE LOSS OF HOMES & SHOPS FOR LOW-INCOME RESIDENTS Create and use bylaws to freeze rents and stop renovictions in SRO hotels while improving conditions and making landlords pay for violations. Create a social impact assessment process directed by low-income residents to approve or deny new business applications.
3. ENSURE JOBS FOR LOW-INCOME RESIDENTS Create job training programs for anyone who wants them. Adopt hiring policies for low-income residents with barriers, including languages, for jobs in city-owned, city-supported and city-operated services. Order police to exempt survival work, such as binning, street vending and sex work, from ticketing, harassment and arrest.
4. PROTECT RESIDENTS’ SAFETY Create a resident-directed DTES police and security ombuds office to receive complaints and direct investigations. Provide free public transit passes to all low-income Vancouver residents. Expand, don’t cut, funding to support residents and programs organizing for the safety of women and other people vulnerable to violence.
5. END DISCRIMINATION SO EVERYONE CAN ACCESS THE SERVICES THEY NEED
Adopt policies for language and cultural accessibility, including hiring plans for Indigenous residents, people with disabilities, seniors and women, as well as Chinese and Spanish speaking workers. Create anti-colonial planning and service organizations. Make the DTES a sanctuary zone where all have equal access to health, housing and social services regardless of citizenship status.
This is a call to the City of Vancouver to adopt the policies proposed by low-income DTES residents as the truthful outcome of the Local Area Planning Process. Our DTES community plan turns away developers and protects the DTES as a SOCIAL JUSTICE ZONE where low-income communities can continue to work to build a healthy, safe and just community themselves.