City’s “surprise” disingenuous over changes for Stamp’s Place

Published Oct 29, 2014 8:00 AM

Changes for Stamp’s and other housing are embedded in the 2013 DTES Local Area Plan

BC-Housing-Stamps-Pace-e1334962402430.jpgResidents of Stamp’s Place — comprising 368 residences housing about 1,500 people in Strathcona — have understandably been caught off guard with BC Housing’s announcement they are looking for new parties to take over the social housing complex.

But for the City of Vancouver to express “surprise” is disingenuous in light of the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan, says Green Party of Vancouver Council candidate Pete Fry.

“In retrospect, it’s easy to see that the writing was on the wall in the new 30-year area plan for the Downtown Eastside the City developed last year,” says Fry. 

“But the real question is, what was the City anticipating if they wrote it in that way?” 

A long-time Strathcona resident, Fry sat on the Local Area Plan (LAP) committee for the DTES in his former role as chair of Strathcona Residents’ Association. He, along with the majority of stakeholders, ultimately rejected the flawed plan as it lacked details surrounding the scale and scope of development and, more importantly, how affordable housing should be defined. 

“Representatives from Stamp’s Place and its associated co-operative centre, Ray-Cam, were not included in the LAP committee, otherwise they might have red-flagged some of the lines buried in the 220-page document,” he says. 

Fry adds that in retrospect, it’s easy to see that many sections of the local area plan indicate the fate and vulnerability of Stamp’s Place along with other social housing sites in the area [see Backgrounder].

Numerous passages in the DTES LAP refer to both Stamp’s Place and MacLean Park, another very large social housing site with nearly 500 residences, which is bordered by Gore and Jackson avenues and Keefer and Union streets. Of particular note is Section 9.2, which refers specifically to both housing sites, and states in part: “Increasing Affordable Housing Options for Downtown Eastside Residents”, which describes “partner contributions of 1,500 net new units through infill or redevelopment of existing BC Housing social housing sites (MacLean Park and Stamp’s Place)”. 

“So it’s hard to believe that the City can say it was surprised or caught off guard by the BC Housing notice and Request for Expressions of Interest. It was all laid out in the LAP, but people didn’t see what it meant.” 

As well, Stamp’s Place and Maclean Park both offer safe family housing with suites containing four and even five bedrooms. By contrast, many housing providers in the Downtown Eastside side specialize in low-barrier, singles’ housing, so residents are also concerned about what the future holds in terms of the housing mix. 

“With little communication or planning from the City, now residents are left in a state of fear and worry, wondering how their lives and support systems will be impacted, at best — or, at worst, will they be wholesale reno-victed in a Little Mountain type debacle?” he adds.

Particularly troublesome for the future of Stamp’s Place and all social income-adjusted housing in the City is the lack of a real definition of affordable housing. As well, social housing has been redefined to include “affordable” rental housing, which itself has been defined by the City at rent levels well beyond the reach of average renters.

The province currently defines affordable housing as $962.50 a month for a bachelor apartment. The City defines affordable housing as up to $1,443 for the same bachelor apartment.

“It’s absolutely vital for the City to define affordable housing honestly,” says Green Vancouver City Councillor Adriane Carr. “I’ve been saying this all along but with the province now changing gears and selling off social housing sites like Stamp’s it’s critical.

“It’s ridiculous to call housing costing up to $1,443 a month ‘affordable’ for people with limited incomes in a city where the average renter’s income is $35,000.”

Stamp’s Place residents and Ray-Cam staff held an in-depth information meeting on October 22, which Fry attended, and hosted a tour of Stamp’s Place on October 25, which Fry, Carr and Park Board candidate Michael Wiebe joined.

“What’s really disturbing is if the City did anticipate this, because it was in the Local Area Plan done last year, why weren’t they talking with BC Housing and the residents long ago? Why was it that residents heard about this in a letter they got October 3 from BC Housing?” says Carr.

“This is another case of the Vision-dominated City Hall leaving residents out in the cold when it comes to information and decision making.”