The City has finally released its draft Local Area Plan (LAP) for the DTES and the plan is under fire from all sides. Some people who want to see the DTES become a higher-income neighbourhood say that the plan gives too much housing and power to low-income residents. Others say that the plan is a blueprint for social mix that will destroy the low-income community. City Council can adopt the plan as it is, change it, or reject it.
A close read of the 183-page document shows that there are a few victories for the low-income community. The major victory is that any new housing in the Oppenheimer Area will have to be 60% social housing and 40% rental, which will keep the rents in the SROs from going up too fast and will make land cheaper for social housing. But the plan will displace more low-income residents in other areas of the DTES. The social housing that is left in the DTES might be mostly supportive housing. Importantly, the plan falls short of its promise to honour and respect Indigenous people.
Healing, power and Indigenous people
Members of the Low-Income Caucus told the City that healing and power in decision-making are key to working for justice for Indigenous people in the DTES. They have been pushing the City to fund an Aboriginal Healing Centre designed and run by Indigenous people as a first step. The City says it will support community efforts to build a “Coast Salish Village” concept, which isn’t the same thing and isn’t clearly explained in the Plan. Beyond the tourist-oriented development of a “Coast Salish Village” and a smattering of sentences recognizing the Indigenous history of the DTES, there is little in the way of action to end and bring justice to legacies and practices of colonialism in the DTES.
What housing crisis?
If you read through the DTES Local Area Plan but had never been in the neighbourhood, you wouldn’t know just how bad the housing crisis is. The plan never clearly says that the 5,000 people living in awful SROs and 730 people sleeping on the streets and in shelters are on the frontlines of a severe housing crisis. Instead of insisting that there is a housing emergency in the DTES, the City seems to be saying that the problem is under control.
The City is only planning to kick in $50 million of the total $820 million the LAP says will be spent on social housing. The rest is supposed to come from developers and other levels of government. We know that developers won’t build unless there’s a profit to be made. But how can the City hope to push senior government for upwards of $525 million if it doesn’t clearly say that there’s a housing crisis?
The City does not commit to acquiring any more land, and the number of units it promises to build simply isn’t enough. If you crunch the numbers, the City plan calls for 10 unaffordable, mostly market units, for each unit of welfare rate social housing. This means that low-income people will soon be outnumbered in the DTES. This will destroy our DTES community.
Social versus supportive housing
What will the social housing that is left in the DTES look like? The plan stresses the importance of building more supportive housing. It repeats the false claim that 2/3 of the homeless people and half of the SRO residents struggle with “Serious Addictions and Mental Illness” (SAMI).
The plan hints that much of the social housing in the future DTES will be heavily institutionalized and controlled supportive housing. Of course, some people want to live in supportive housing. Others look for support in other less controlling places.
Low-Income Caucus member Karen Ward says, “people need homes, income and friends for recovery.” Ward is worried that the City is basing its strategy on the Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions. The Task Force is made up mostly of psychiatrists and professionals instead of people who survive with mental health issues and addictions. Since the Task Force is only starting, nobody knows what it will recommend.
Low-Income residents in the DTES have their own vision of what the neighbourhood needs to support people living with addictions and mental health issues. Peer-run services, an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre and treatment on demand are central to this vision.
The importance of a low-income community
More and more studies have shown that a community where people have friendships, places they can afford to shop and services they need are part of health and recovery. The draft Local Area Plan might have some goodies for the low-income community. The overall picture, however, means low-income people won’t get the housing they need in a reasonable period of time. If you think it’s important to fight for more decent housing that homeless people and SRO residents can afford, come to City Council on March 12th for a rally and to speak to Council. Call CCAP at 604 729 2380 for details or check out http://ccapvancouver.wordpress.com/.