Vancouver’s recently approved Downtown Eastside neighbourhood plan has raised concerns over the definition of social housing and the plan’s ability to stop – or even slow – gentrification. Low-income advocates and others expressed frustration that the significant 30-year plan was rushed through City Council.
On the podcast, we hear from low-income advocate Tamara Herman (Carnegie Community Action Project), Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson (courtesy of City Hall Watch), Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr, and urban planning/geography PhD student and researcher Melissa Fong.
Seven hundred and thirty-one homeless people live in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) according to the City of Vancouver. Approximately 5,000 more live on the edge of homelessness in tiny Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel rooms, with no private kitchen or bathroom, and often poor management, mice, rats, cockroaches and bedbugs. Most of these people rely on welfare and basic pension and desperately need new self contained social housing. –Carnegie Community Action Project
The Carnegie Community Action Project’s (CCAP) 2014 hotel and housing report finds that SROs in the DTES are more expensive than ever and that fewer still are available to low-income individuals looking for rooms.
On the podcast, I speak with Rory Sutherland, who is co-author of the report, No Place to Go: Losing Affordable Housing and Community. In the conversation, Rory outlines the major findings of the report, how they know SROs are gentrifying, and the implications for homelessness if this ‘last stop’ housing stock no longer houses the low-income people that depend on it.
Social mix is a euphemism for destroying low-income communities. This is a community that fought for – and won – the only safe injection site in North America. This is a community that had to occupy a Police Board meeting in order to get the Police Board to put out the same reward for the missing women that it put out for garage robberies on the Westside. This is a community that had to fight for seven years to get a community centre like other people have. This is a community that had to camp out on a beach for a whole summer in order to get a waterfront park like other communities have. This community has a history of fighting for human rights, and the City destroys that by condo-fying the whole [neighbourhood] and displacing low income people – that will be destroying one of the most valuable assets it has.
–Jean Swanson, Carnegie Community Action Project
Vancouver’s Chinatown is undergoing increasingly rapid gentrification. The Carnegie Community Action Project’s Jean Swanson (author, Poorbashing: The Politics of Exclusion) discusses why a significant influx of condominiums and high-end retail are threatening to displace the neighbourhood’s low-income residents – and why the city is approving these major developments before the completion of the Downtown Eastside local area plan. You can check out a past podcast, From Poor to Yuppie: Artists, Boutiques, and Neighbourhood Change, if you are interested in hearing more about gentrification and social dislocation in the Downtown Eastside.
On the second half of the program, we hear why the independently-owned Festival Cinemas has been sold to Cineplex. We talk with co-owner Leonard Schein about why he is calling it quits, the challenge to operate cinemas independently, and what he believes the City and province should do to help arts and culture thrive/survive in Vancouver.
Highlights from the report include the following:
While the city brags about its housing accomplishments, the housing crisis in the DTES got worse in 2012. Not only were there about 850 homeless people, up from 700 last year, thousands of people are still living in crummy SRO hotel rooms with no bathroom or kitchen, and often cockroaches, bedbugs and poor conditions… which they increasingly cannot afford.
At least 426 hotel rooms that were accessible to low-income tenants in 2011 were lost to rent increases in 2012. That’s one finding of the Carnegie Community Action Project’s (CCAP) latest annual hotel report, called “We’re trying to get rid of the welfare people.”
“For decades, residential hotel rooms in the Downtown Eastside have been low-income people’s last resort before homelessness,” said Fraser Stuart. “People on welfare and disability and seniors with a basic pension have only about $375 a month for rent. This year we lost at least 426 rooms to rent increases above $425.”
Many hotels are now consciously trying to get rid of people on welfare and disability in favour of young workers and students, says the report, which quotes statements like the one in the report’s title that a desk clerk made to CCAP surveyors posing as prospective tenants.