Do we want a Social Justice Zone in the Downtown Eastside?: By Jean Swanson
All over the world, low income areas are being gentrified and low income and vulnerable people pushed out of their neighbourhoods. Could Vancouver be different? Could we get the city, other levels of government, business and agencies to adopt a special Social Justice Zone in the DTES? If we did, what exactly would that mean?
This is what about 35 people discussed at a town hall meeting in Oppenheimer Park on Jan. 11. The meeting was sponsored by some low income members of the Local Area Planning Committee.
What would a Social Justice Zone look like?
For the first part of the meeting people talked about what they thought a Social Justice Zone could be. They said things like:
We’d have social housing for everyone who needs a home and stores that cater to the poor;
We’d have radical zoning like 100% social housing and rent control;
We’d have community control over the police and maybe even a governing body to represent our community;
We could have a community meeting on every new development project with a community vote on all zoning changes;
It could be a place where low income and vulnerable people have a right to be and won’t be pushed out.
One person said, “We’d have the things we need like childcare, art space, meeting space, recreation.”
Tami Starlight said the Social Justice Zone could be an anti-oppression zone too, where we all learned about the systems that divide us.
After people talked about what a Social Justice Zone could be, Karen Ward, a low income member of the Local Area Planning Committee representing the Gallery Gachet, talked about where we could have a zone like this. Karen had a map of the Downtown Eastside showing the 8 sub-areas in it. “You’re not seeing condos here,” she said about the heart of the DTES, the Oppenheimer Area. She went on to explain that this is because of a city law, called a zoning law. It says that developers have to put in 20% social housing in the Oppenheimer Area. This makes condos less profitable and keeps them from pushing up land values, hotel and store rents, and pushing out low income people. But, she explained, this is changing now, because the Sequel 138 development, with 79 condos, is planned for the Oppenheimer Area.
Karen also showed everyone a quote from the city’s DTES Housing Plan. It said that the Oppenheimer Area would be the place where the city put new self contained social housing for low income people.
If we could use the Local Area Plan to declare the Oppenheimer Area and the Hastings Corridor from Heatley to Clark Drive a Social Justice Zone, then maybe we could keep at least some low income residents from being pushed out.
Zoning for care
One of the key values in the DTES is “caring,” according to the Carnegie Action Project’s Vision for Change report. Karen brought an art piece she did of the 3 hearts of care, all related to zoning. For the Oppenheimer Area, the heart of the DTES, and the Hastings Corridor, she proposed zoning that required 100% social housing. Other areas that don’t already have a community plan, like the Thornton Park area, could be 70% social housing. The rest of the DTES and the rest of the city could be 30% social housing so low income people could have a chance to live all over.