Picking on the Poor

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… to Serve Vancouver’s “Development” Industry

 
“Every neighbourhood needs to do their part in taking some of this housing [for the homeless] and helping care for and engage that population”  — Gil Kelley, General Manager of Planning, Urban Design & Sustainability, City of Vancouver (27 Nov 2017)

 
 
Of Diversions and Displacement

Smoke from localized brush fires over the siting of “temporary modular housing” (TMH) should not divert an onlooker’s gaze from Vancouver’s main social conflagration. For well over a decade, the City of Vancouver, in the service of the development industry, has conducted overt war on the poor. In 2006 Project Civil City marked an early low point for this new century.

Who are the frontline casualties in this conflict? The latest count of 2,138 persons recognized as homeless. What is the current main diversionary tactic? A bureaucracy that sets off skirmishes in Vancouver’s second-tier poor neighborhoods and then accuses those areas of being filled with selfish NIMBYs.

The starting point for all of this is 2,138 homeless people

         Who find themselves perpetually moved along on the sidewalk
         Who often have their few belongings taken away and thrown out by city functionaries
         Whose right to set up a tent and to congregate for safety is subjected to constant challenge

Homeless people fall at the extreme end of a larger spectrum of deliberate displacement. At the more fortunate end are people who can leave Vancouver because they see no reasonable future for themselves in a city being sold out to globalized wealth. All are persons victimized by an ethos of greed that traces back to the corporate agendas underlying Expo 86 and the 2010 Olympics. [1]

The inevitable counterpart of this greed is the fear suffered by people who get exploited and/or shoved out of their familiar surroundings. In a trickle-out phenomenon, the homeless provoke anxieties and defensiveness in every neighborhood that lies beyond the greater Downtown Eastside area. Why is this happening now? Proximity to Vancouver’s urban core has turned the Downtown Eastside, a longstanding haven for the city’s poorest, into a prime target for gentrification — and for the resulting severest degree of displacement, no home at all.

 
Scatter and Social Mix

It is telling that the City of Vancouver is making its first moves to “scatter” TMH into the poorest areas of the rest of the city. The notion of TMH “scattered across the city” emerges in Cheryl Chan’s July 2017 reporting on an interview with Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas, General Manager of Community Services. [2] A report that went to City Council on that same day to expedite the spread of TMH offers up this contradictory perspective: “The proposed authority does not extend to single-family (RS) zones” (page 2). [3] Thus is a strong degree of class privilege protection built into a measure that might otherwise promote a possibilty for genuine citywide equity.

The concept of “scatter” is a first cousin to the concept of “social mix.” A revealing instance of the phrase “social mix” occurs in the context of a September 2013 review of four simultaneous “community plans” — for Downtown Eastside, West End, Marpole, and Grandview-Woodland (pdf 18 / A3). [4] Only in the planning for Downtown Eastside does “social mix” emerge as a concern. The City of Vancouver seems to raise the issue of “social mix” mainly in the context of gentrifying areas that house the poor. “Social mix” thus acquires a special restricted Vancouver meaning: to displace poorer people in order to provide opportunity for richer people.

In this same vein, the City of Vancouver also professed a policy of “social mix” for “publicly-owned lands in Southeast False Creek, and defined that aspiration as a ⅓ affordable housing, ⅓ modest market and ⅓ market housing mix” (page 15). [5]

David Hulchanski’s recent income mapping of Vancouver [6] shows Marpole as the lowest-income area on the west side of Vancouver (slide 24):

 

 

A City of Vancouver document from May 2006 provides 2001 census data tailored to the 479 acres that then comprised the Norquay Village study area (this encompassed the 4410 Kaslo site newly proposed for TMH on 1 December 2017). Notable figures include a Chinese population of 48.1% and a “population in low income households” at 32.0% of 10,905. At that point Norquay organically had already achieved the low-income end of the ⅓ ⅓ ⅓ “mix” touted as desirable. It seems certain that Norquay’s subsequent planning and development has destroyed that existing balance. In a period of about four years about 11% of Norquay’s mass-rezoned 1,912 properties have been redeveloped. This change usually amounts to eliminating the oldest and most affordable housing stock and replacing it with the newest and least affordable.

 

 

Not coincidentally, both of these two local areas — Marpole and Norquay — were subjected to planning for mass rezonings during the past decade. Real estate interests have viewed both neighborhoods as de facto “brownfields” ripe for harvesting profits in, since easy build-out opportunities on former industrial lands are ceasing to exist.

 
Problems, Problems

A good candidate for Vancouver’s top problem is 2,138 people who have no home. That specific number has to be a lowball figure. As veteran housing activist Jean Swanson has put it:

 

 

So far, TMH has amounted to an intermittent and stopgap approach to attempting to provide even a temporary solution to this major problem. The TMH initiative fumbled big-time at its very inception. On 13 December 2016, City of Vancouver yanked the four specific proposed sites off the table at the last minute via a “yellow memo.” [8] Council went on to approve the new policy, but as policy suddenly left with no ground to stand on.

A time very close to Christmas can be a good time to minimize the scrutiny that increases embarrassment. The coincidence here is striking. It will be one year to the very day that City of Vancouver staff will be bringing their “Community Information Session” on TMH at 4410 Kaslo to Norquay and to other area residents.

 

 

No wonder the City of Vancouver web site for TMH fails to link to the backstory information that would permit easy discovery of previous fails. A month later, on 31 January 2017 the City of Vancouver fired Mukhtar Latif, “chief housing officer and CEO of the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency.” Upper echelon bureaucrat Latif had spent well over three years in delivering nothing but a snafu. [9]

During another year of bumbling onward, what more has the City of Vancouver produced? One demonstration project of 40 units located at 220 Terminal Avenue, and one massive blowback situation in Marpole.

 
Solution

Any genuine solution must start by incorporating solid input from persons directly affected by homelessness, and from persons who have the trust of homeless people and are intimately connected with their circumstances on an ongoing basis. This by definition excludes City of Vancouver staff.

Distrust starts at the top. Recent Vancouver homeless history provides a singular instance of a meeting where Mayor Gregor Robertson personally signed a pledge that the City of Vancouver would provide “100% welfare/pension rate community-controlled social housing at 58 West Hastings.” [10]

 

 

At about the same time, the preceding decade of history for that especially contentious and historic site was written up. [11] What has happened in the year since? Gregor Robertson has once again added to his personal dishonor by reneging on this public pledge. [12]

Any genuine solution must amount to something more than portable SROs shoved randomly and opportunistically into sometimes hostile environments, with City of Vancouver officials like Mayor Gregor Robertson occasionally showing up to finger-wag at local residents about how they should play nice.

Homelessness is a major problem that has to be owned up to honestly by every resident of Vancouver. Appropriate funding must be allocated to the situation. The City of Vancouver can always find money for what it really wants to do. Big money fast, like the untold hundreds of millions to bail out the Malek developers of Olympic Village. [13] Big money fast, like $55 million to buy the Arbutus strip of land from Canadian Pacific. [14] The City of Vancouver has to stop crying poor whenever it comes to spending money to house the poor.

Through recently completed planning, Norquay is already slated to provide 100 units of non-market housing at the 2400 Motel site on Kingsway. This is land that the City of Vancouver already owns. Eye on Norquay has specifically brought this matter to the attention of senior planning officials, both in person and through formal correspondence on 19 June 2017. All Norquay residents deserve an explanation as to why the sudden makeshift measures of TMH should take priority over the results of an extensive formal planning process that concluded seven years ago.

Who would want 50 temporary portable SRO units when they could have 100 permanent purpose-built dwelling units? This is a matter of logic. The emotionalism of finger-pointing and name-calling that the City of Vancouver directs at singled-out poorer neighborhoods needs to stop now. Misdirection is a shameful substitute for considered and transparent planning.
 

 
[1]  Two revealing quotations:

“If the Olympic bid wasn’t happening we would have to invent something.”  — Jack Poole, Vancouver real estate developer and VANOC chair
Frank O’Brien. Western perspective: Taxpayers reluctant skeleton in 2010 bid. Western Investor (June 2002) A6

“Nobody wants to admit it, but Vancouver has become a resort city where rich foreigners live a few months per year … It’s a $6-billion ad buy [with the Olympics]. There’s never been anything like it. It will change Vancouver, forever.”  — Bob Rennie, Vancouver condominium marketer
Miro Cernetig. The views from on high are nice, but not many can afford them. Vancouver Sun (25 Jan 2010) A1

[2]  Cheryl Chan. Vancouver wants more modular housing built to help homeless. Vancouver Sun (26 July 2017)
Vancouver wants more modular housing built to help homeless

[3]  Council Report: Zoning and Development By-law No. 3575 – Amendment to the General Regulations to Delegate Discretionary Relaxation Powers to Expedite the Delivery of Low Cost Housing for Persons Receiving Assistance (26 July 2017)
http://council.vancouver.ca/20170726/documents/pspc-UrgentBusiness1.pdf

[4]  Council Report: Community Plans: Next Steps (25 Sept 2013)
http://council.vancouver.ca/20130925/documents/cfsc1.pdf

[5]  Sustainable Community Assessment for Southeast False Creek (28 Jan 2005)
http://council.vancouver.ca/20050201/ym3a.pdf

[6]  J. David Hulchanski. What is Happening to My Neighbourhood? The Socio-Spatial Restructuring of Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal 1970 to 2015 (Dec 2017)
http://neighbourhoodchange.ca/documents/2017/12/van-cal-tor-mont-1970-2015.pdf

[7]  Council Agenda: Item 2. Temporary Modular Housing Definition And Regulations: Proposed Amendments To Existing City-Owned Cd-1 Sites, And Design Guidelines (13 Dec 2016)
Includes: Policy Report, Staff Presentation, Summary and Recommendation, and Memorandum
http://council.vancouver.ca/20161213/phea20161213ag.htm

[8]  Matt Kieltyka. Vancouver’s chief housing officer Mukhtar Latif fired. Vancouver Metro (31 Jan 2017)
http://www.metronews.ca/news/vancouver/2017/01/31/vancouver-chief-housing-officer-mukhtar-latif-fired.html

[9]  Stefania Seccia. West Hastings ‘tent city’ could be around for years. Megaphone Magazine/Tyee (4 Aug 2016)
https://thetyee.ca/News/2016/08/04/West-Hastings-Tent-City/

[10]  Kai Rajala / Nathan Crompton. Battle of 58 West Hastings: The History of a Fight for Housing, 2007–Present. Mainlander (27 July 2016)
http://themainlander.com/2016/07/27/battleof58/

[11]  City screws DTES again: 58 W Hastings Protest & news conference (24 Oct 2017)
http://www.carnegieaction.org/2017/10/24/city-screws-dtes-58-w-hastings-protest-news-conference/

[12]  Bob Mackin. City stands firm on Olympic Village loss. Vancouver Courier (21 Oct 2011) 19
http://www.vancourier.com/news/city-stands-firm-on-olympic-village-loss-1.377596

[13]  Frances Bula. Vancouver acquires Arbutus rail corridor from CP for $55-million. Globe and Mail (7 Mar 2016)
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/vancouver-settles-dispute-over-arbutus-corridor-with-55-million-payment-to-cp-rail/article29049229/
 

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Written by eyeonnorquay

12 December 2017 at 4:31 pm

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