British Columbia

Carnegie Action Project report cites higher rents on Vancouver's DTES

Low-income and vulnerable residents on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside continue to face fewer affordable housing options, according to a recent report from the Carnegie Action Project.

Report's recommendations include buying or leasing SRO hotels and increasing welfare rates

The Balmoral Hotel is a single room occupancy hotel on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (CBC News)

Low-income and vulnerable residents on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside continue to face fewer affordable housing options, according to a recent report from the Carnegie Community Action Project. 

The report, Our Homes Can't Wait, says there are fewer single room occupancy rooms than ever, and those that remain are charging higher rents despite a city bylaw meant to protect SRO residents.

"We're seeing landlords flipping their properties across the Downtown Eastside ... with no ramifications from the city, said Maria Wallstam with the Carnegie Action Project. 

The community group has been monitoring rental rates on the Downtown Eastside since 2008. Since that time, it says the average lowest rents on the Downtown Eastside have risen to $517 a month from $398. 

Maria Wallstam with the Carnegie Community Action Project says SROs on the Downtown Eastside are being converted into luxury apartments. (CBC)

The report highlights that people on welfare only receive about $7,320 a year on rent — $610 a month — putting them in a precarious situation when rents start climbing even minimally. 

Wallstam said the area's SROs are being converted to "hip, urban, micro-living" accommodations — some with rent well above $1,000 a month. 

"This is part of a larger trend, and if the city doesn't take immediate measures we're going to see rents continue to rise in SRO hotels beyond what low-income people can afford," she said. 

The City of Vancouver has repeatedly called on the province and the federal government to support affordable housing in the city. Mayor Gregor Robertson recently asked the federal government for half a billion dollars to build social housing on $250-million worth of city-owned land.

It has also been creating new social housing units by working with developers and requiring them to include new social housing units in their projects. 

But the Carnegie Community Action Project's report says the city's changing definition of social housing excludes homeless and low-income people, deferring instead to B.C. Housing Income Limits that can be as high as $912 a month for a bachelor suite. 

Concern about St. Paul's hospital move

The report also highlighted the need to address the upcoming move of St. Paul's hospital to Station Street, which is home to SRO buildings like the Cobalt Hotel and the Ivanhoe. 

It compared the building of the facility to the Woodward's building, which it says displaced hundreds of low-income residents as property values rose.

"The new St. Paul's development is much larger than the Woodward's development, and there is no doubt that the incoming hospital will increase property values," said the report. 

To protect low-income residents, the report's recommendations for the city include:

  • Buying or leasing SRO hotels to prevent gentrification.
  • Amending the single room accommodation bylaw to include raising rents.
  • Stop the development of market housing on the Downtown Eastside.

Its recommendation for the provincial and federal governments include raising welfare and disability payments, funding 10,000 units a year of low-income housing throughout the province, and enacting a national housing program.


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