Gregor Robertson's broken promise for DTES low-income housing infuriates residents

Advocates for Downtown Eastside social housing say that Vancouver Mayor Gregor Roberson has reneged on a promise for 100 per cent welfare-rate accommodations at a proposed downtown development.

Operator of social housing building says it's not possible to make all units low-income as promised

Tuesday night's meeting to discuss 58 West Hastings drew 72 registered speakers. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

Advocates for Downtown Eastside social housing say that Vancouver Mayor Gregor Roberson has reneged on a promise for 100 per cent welfare-rate accommodations at a proposed downtown development. 

At a public hearing Tuesday, proponents called for the city to honour its commitment made to the DTES's most vulnerable residents by Robertson related to a 2016 rezoning proposal to turn 58 West Hastings Street into a housing project.

But Karen Ward, with Our Homes Can't Wait, says the development proposal will make the building's rents too expensive for locals and breaks Robertson's promise when he signed a pledge to make the development "100 per cent welfare/pension rate community-controlled housing," or shelter-type housing.

Key distinction

The 58 West Hastings proposal calls for one-third — or 231 — of the building's units to be priced at shelter rates. The rest will qualify as social housing.

So what's the difference?

Welfare rate, pension rate or shelter rate refers to B.C. Housing's shelter maximum amount a person on income assistance would be required to pay for housing, which is currently at $375 per month for an employable single person.

Social housing in the DTES, according to Vancouver's housing strategy, is less restricted.

The strategy says for an entire building to be declared social housing, three conditions must be met:

  • At least one third of the units must be rented out at or below the shelter maximum.
  • It must be owned by a non-profit group, co-op or a government.
  • It must be secured with a "housing agreement or other legal commitment."

Operator says 100% not possible

At Tuesday's meeting, Carol Lee with the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, the non-profit behind the rezoning, said half the building's units will be at the shelter rate.

The other half will be tied to the Housing Income Limit, which the provincial government uses to measure how much income a person needs to afford a particular rental home.

Luke Harrison with the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency said operating the building at 100 per cent shelter rates would not be possible.

But the 72 speakers at Tuesday's event did not back down from their demands.

Flora Munroe, also with Our Homes Can't Wait, said the experience with the Woodward's development has shown mixing welfare and mainstream housing won't work.

"A lot of people that are low-income, [have] the feeling they don't belong there because of the people paying higher rent," she said. "They don't feel comfortable. They're being stared at or talked about. They're just hiding themselves or they leave."

"How are you supposed to work yourself toward being socially acceptable if you're just being put down all the time?"

A request for comment from the City of Vancouver has not been returned.

The meeting is scheduled to hear from additional speakers on Jan. 30.

With files from Maryse Zeidler