City Council approves DTES Local Area Plan amid social housing dispute

A road map for the DTES. Rental-only zone promised, but the heart of Vancouver still faces a wave of gentrification during full-blown housing crisis.

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There’s a sense that Vision Vancouver is committed to real-world affordable housing in the same way Tiger Woods was committed to Elin Nordegren: not willing to divorce, but also unwilling to give up the action he was getting on the side. City Hall is somewhat promiscuous with those development projects. Not entirely surprising when condo-king Bob Rennie is throwing fundraisers for the current mayor and asking $25,000 for those who want a seat at the table. (Developers were very heavily represented at a Vision Vancouver fundraiser in 2011: they know with whom to make friends to get things done.)

At the same time, Vision is pumping more money into housing creation than its predecessors, even if such housing doesn’t actually end up being affordable (i.e. 508 Helmcken/1099 Richards).

This leads to the major sticking point of the DTES LAP, which was predictable since the nanosecond that the 320-page pdf hit the web: What, precisely, is "social housing"?

Defining social housing

The DTES LAP sought to redefine “social housing”, and strike the definition of “low-cost housing” entirely. Hidden in an appendix was a move to replace the definition of “social housing ” to align with the definition in the Vancouver Development Cost Bylaw:

“social housing”, for the purpose of section 523D(10)(d) of the Vancouver Charter, means: (a) housing in which households with incomes below core-need income thresholds occupy at least 30% of the dwelling units, (b) rental housing owned by or on behalf of the city, Province of British Columbia, or Canada, (c) rental housing owned by a non-profit corporation, or (d) housing owned by a non-profit co-operative association.

So the new definition of “social housing” would have been essentially divorced from the concept of the low-income resident. Such housing can be for-profit, and rental apartments can count as “social housing”, regardless of the amount for which they rent. In other words, the Plan would have its cake and eat it: market-rate housing with a "social housing" sticker slapped on.

Tyler Durden said it best:

An amendment moved by Reimer stipulates that at least one-third of new social housing units put forward in the plan be rented out at the welfare shelter rate. There's a bit of an asterisk in there, though. Nate Crompton, who spoke on Wednesday, was also in the Council Chambers today. He wrote,

For the Oppenheimer district (DEOD), this "basket definition" will be applied to only 60% of all new housing, while the remaining 40% will be luxury and high-income market rental. That means at least 80% of all new housing in DEOD will be market priced gentrification. The ratio is much worse for the 7 other districts of the Downtown Eastside. After six years of renovictions, displacement and the demolition of affordable housing, things are about to get worse for low income people. But judging from the feeling in the room, this fight will continue in the streets.

Also, Victory Square and Chinatown would be exempt from this stipulation. Fry was also not sold on what he called the "scattered promises" of the plan:

 Where do we go now, where do we go?

The DTES LAP will serve as the road map for the development of the Downtown Eastside over the next 30 years; and a road map is but a guideline. You can always turn left instead of right, or simply drive into a ditch if the conditions align. During her five minutes on Wednesday, Melissa Fong told Council, "I have a lot of faith that the plan was organized in good faith, and community planners did their best with what they had. The principles in the plan seem promising, but I fear that too many negotiations are going to be made down the road to accommodate market interests simply because it’s easier; and this local government will displace responsibility on other levels of government."

New amendments notwithstanding, our municipal leaders have just received an object lesson in what happens when you squander trust, and it came in the form of a three-day telling-off session. A cheeseburger is all well and good, but City Hall was shoulder-to-shoulder with people who wanted steak; especially when local government has built its brand around idealism.

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