#DTES: A 30-Year Plan of Gentrification or Goodness?

#DTES: A 30-Year Plan of Gentrification or Goodness?

By Tyson Kelsall, Culture Editor

The city of Vancouver released a 30-year local area plan (LAP) for the Downtown Eastside (DTES). Many are wondering if this is another attempt at serious gentrification. The city’s promise that nobody will be pushed out is being questioned. The plan will go to vote by city council on 12 March 2014. News headlines are claiming this to be a proposed 1-billion dollar fix.

Already fissures are showing and the 320-page report has hardly been released. Local businesses are already calling the consultation process a failure. CBC reports Strathcona Business Improvement Association spokesperson Joji Kumagai as saying, “Some of the documentation that would help us understand parts of the plan haven’t been made available to us, or have been made available very late.” Even if this were a plan of gentrification, one would think at least the businesses would be well informed.

Next, Jason Jones of the Vancouver Media Co-op has reported that part of the plan is to freeze the population of low-income people allowed to live within the DTES. Vancouver is already an expensive place to rent; welfare and social assistance rates are low and unmoving under the BC Liberals. So, although the city is claiming that the 18,500 people currently in the DTES will be unmoved, a far-fetched promise at best, within the 30 years there will also be no newcomers. Additionally, there’s a reason people need to live in the DTES: the rest of ever-growing Vancouver is North America’s most expensive city to live in, and home of the 2nd most expensive real estate of any city next to Hong Kong according to the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.

To speak bluntly, Vancouver cannot afford this plan. Brian Jackson, the City of Vancouver’s general manager of planning and development told CBC that, “We need the other levels of government, other non-profits and the faith-based groups and the development community to make this a reality,” because they can only pay for approximately twenty percent of the project. Fifty-percent is projected to come through the provincial and federal governments, but that has not been agreed upon. Will the BC Liberals or Canadian Conservatives support a project with such a proposed focus on social housing? It is not really within Conservative ideology, to say the least.

Of course, inherent to worries of a 320-page report are the same as the worries whenever the federal Conservatives pass an omnibus bill. Jones writes, “One way of manipulating a situation is to overwhelm”. A 320-page report is one thing, but considering there is only two weeks to organize against it, if anyone wished to, the small time period exacerbates that. When the Conservatives pass an omnibus bill, it is usually partially due to the notion that they are stripping environmental regulations and do not want to give time for ENGOs and frontline communities to lobby against it. Why else would such a long report be given so little time to be analyzed?

Businesses and grassroots advocacy groups, such as Carnegie Community Action Project, have come out saying there has been a lack of direct discussion. The plan is going to have strong opposition, in fact, it already does. There is reason to be skeptical, as over the years many poor attempts have been made to fix the DTES without working with the appropriate populations. If Vancouver wants to do it right, they should be working alongside community groups, not imposing extended reports on them.