Storm Brewing – Local Area Plan and the Future of the DTES: By Jean Swanson and Harold Lavender

P6119083The fight over the future of the DTES is heating up. A DTES Local Area Plan that could last up to thirty years will be presented to City Council for a vote, probably in March.

The purpose of the Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) is supposed to be “to improve the future of all residents, especially low-income and vulnerable people….”

Low-income residents and advocates are concerned that the City’s plan will fall far short of what’s needed to improve the lives of people in the DTES.

Many are feeling there is nothing for Indigenous people in the plan and it will not create nearly enough social housing that people in the community can afford to live in. They don’t see the plan dealing with important social justice issues.  It won’t stop gentrification and displacement.

dtessocialjusticezoneHowever, one city staff recommendation in the draft plan would help the low-income community. The Oppenheimer area of the DTES would be zoned for 60% social housing and 40% market rentals. This would block condo development in the area and prevent rising property values from pushing up SRO rents.

In the next four months low-income community representatives will be organizing and advocating for a better plan that would improve the lives of low-income residents. These include ending homelessness and replacing 5000 crappy hotel rooms with good self-contained social housing units.

Town Hall meetings are being organized to discuss these issues and talk about what to do. The first one will be held on November 30th. Also the low-income Caucus of the LAPP, a group of committee members representing low-income DTES residents, will be gathering petition signatures to show support for social housing and other social justice demands that need to be included in a DTES community plan.

Counter Attack

However, we face stiff opposition to many of our demands.

Pro-developer, pro-gentrification forces are now actively organizing and lobbying City Council to block measures that would benefit the low-income community.

An ex NPA candidate for City Council has trashed the idea of having 60% social housing and 40% rental housing in one small part of the DTES. Michael Geller, a real estate consultant and property developer, thinks it’s outrageous to have even one tiny area in the city where developers can’t build condos. Geller claims that there is so much low-income social housing in the DTES that “low-income households will never be forced out to make way for the gentry.”

Unfortunately, the people who are being forced out aren’t the ones who live in social housing. They live in SROs owned by Stephen Lippman and others. Lippman buys up SROs, gets rid of residents on welfare, does a few cheap renos, and then rents out to people who can afford $525 to $700 a month.

And a coalition of groups seeming to represent mainly property owners and businesses, but including ALIVE and Raycam, sent the city a 12 page document claiming that the City’s proposals pay too much attention to low-income and vulnerable residents.

The 12 page letter comes from the Inner City Neighbourhood Coaltion (ICNC) which includes groups like the False Creek Residents Association, 4 business improvement groups, Raycam and ALIVE. The group calls some of the LAPP committee members “self-designated representatives” of vulnerable residents, even though many on the LAPP committee have been chosen by their groups, such as Dave Hamm, the president of VANDU, with thousands of members, Phoenix Winter, vice president of the Carnegie Community Centre Association with 5000 members, and Tracey Morrison, president of Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction with hundreds of members.

The ICNC doesn’t even like the current requirement that 20% of new developments in the Oppenheimer area should be social housing. They say this requirement interferes with business expansion. And they don’t think the city should use the word gentrification because it has a negative meaning. Well, it is bad when richer people take over a neighbourhood and poor people are either pushed out or made to feel uncomfortable in their own space.

It’s clear that property owners and businesses are pushing the city to support more condos and not build more social housing in the DTES. Come to the town hall meeting on Nov. 30, 3:30pm at the Carnegie Theatre to help work on a way to stop displacement and get more social housing in the DTES.

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