850 homeless people. Four thousand living in crummy SROs. Over 400 rooms lost last year to rent increases at $425 or more. That’s the housing crisis in the DTES that low- income folks on the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Committee have been trying to get the city to deal with.
“Emerging Directions” for a DTES plan was released by the city at the end of July after over a year of discussions. The document is 34 pages long, but the housing section is only 4 pages. Needless to say, the document falls short of setting out a plan that would end the housing crisis.
The first problem with “Emerging Directions” is simple: the numbers don’t add up. There are 850 homeless people in the DTES and 4,354 SRO units that need to be replaced (In 2005, the DTES Housing Plan called for the replacement of 5,000 SRO units. To date, 646 have been replaced. The difference between 5,000 and 646 is 4,354). That means we need 5,204 new units for people with very low incomes. “Emerging Directions” only calls 800 units of social housing over the next 10 years, and actually says these are already proposed or under development. It recommends renovating – but not replacing – 1500 SROs within a ten-year time frame.
The city does admit that gentrification is displacing low-income people from the DTES, and sets out the Oppenheimer sub-district and part of Hastings Street as a “community-based development zone.” The draft plan requires 60% of all new housing developments in the Oppenheimer sub-district to be social housing, and the remaining 40% to be market rental.
Although these points are two victories for low-income people, they are overshadowed by a glaring omission. “Emerging Directions” doesn’t define social housing as housing that people living on welfare or basic pensions can afford. This means that the units could cost $950/month and be totally inaccessible to people on welfare and homeless people who need them the most.
“Emerging Directions” also talks about “encouraging a range of housing types,” “creating a business plan to justify” rent subsidies and creating an additional 1650 units of affordable (not to people on welfare or pension) market rentals a year. The city’s goal, says the document, is to end street homelessness, but not homelessness. In other words, people will continue to have to subsist in expensive and inadequate shelters.
“Emerging Directions” was supposed to implement the 2005 Housing Plan for the DTES.
The city could have used the document to argue that we have a housing crisis and pressed the federal and provincial governments for more social housing. It’s time for the city to lead by designating land for social housing.
At a time when the city is prepared to raise $200 million for a new fancy art gallery, the argument that money is tight is flawed. Housing should come first. The $200 million the city plans for art would be enough to build self-contained social housing for every one of the homeless people in the DTES plus 150 more SRO residents.
The city is seeking input on its Emerging Directions. Now is the time to give it to them.
To give feedback on Emerging Directions, visit the CCAP office on the second floor of the Carnegie Centre or fill out an online survey at http://vancouver.fluidsurveys.com/s/dtes-lap/?l=en