photos: Downtown Eastside tenants in ‘crisis,' advocacy group says

Downtown Eastside tenants in ‘crisis,' advocacy group says

The Carnegie Community Action Project’s latest housing report shows 2017 was the worst year for renters in the area since 2008, as rates rise and rooms close.

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Hotel rents are soaring and rooms are closing at “crisis” levels in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), according to recently released figures from the Carnegie Community Action Project’s (CCAP) annual Hotel Survey and Housing Report.

Last year, average rents for privately run, single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotels went up $139 a month over the year prior, with the average rent now $687 per month compared to $548 per month in 2016.

“Before this, the highest annual average rent increase CCAP found was $30 between 2015 and 2016,” says CCAP organizer Lama Mugabe. “This year’s increase means that people on welfare of the meagre $710 a month only have $23 a month left to spend on food and everything else.”

That’s less than $1 a day, he notes.

CCAP’s report, Crisis – Rents and the Rate of Change in the Downtown Eastside, aims to examine whether low-income DTES residents can afford to remain living in their neighbourhood. With last year’s numbers tallied, the group has deemed 2017 “the worst year for homeless Downtown Eastside residents since the Carnegie Community Action Project began doing these annual reports in 2008.”

With about 9,000 low-income residents in the community receiving social assistance, including disability incomes, and about 4,000 seniors living on pensions, most people can only afford about $375 to $438 monthly for rent, the report states. About one in 18 people who live in the DTES is homeless. For its 2017 report (which this year

was issued in memory of anti-poverty advocates Tracey Morrison and Godfrey Tang, who both fought for more and better housing), CCAP visited 84 private hotels and compiled information provided by 68 of the buildings – for a total of 2,919 rooms.

While the results are grim for all SROs, rates are rising most alarmingly in the city’s “10 fastest gentrifying hotels,”
the report shows, where the average 
room now rents for $1,267 a month – an increase of $166 over last year.

At the top of the list is Low Young Court, where rooms rent for $1,800 a month, followed by Georgia Manor ($1,600 a month) and Argyle Hotel ($1,450 a month). The American is the least pricey of the bunch at $850 a month.

In addition to rising rents, 2017 was a tough year for low-income tenants who were forced to leave their homes for reasons outside their control.

CCAP figures show more than 500 units at low-income buildings such as the Balmoral, the Jubilee and Roddan Lodge were lost to closure because of unsafe conditions, building sales and/ or renovations, or demolition.

The city shut down the 168-unit Balmoral due to dilapidated conditions. The 160-unit, city-owned Roddan Lodge was demolished for a new building. And 78 units at the Jubilee were lost to renovations. At the Quality Inn, 157 rooms of temporary housing for people from the 2014 Oppenheimer Park tent city were lost when the lease expired.

Throughout 2017, just 21 units of new welfare-rate housing opened in the DTES, the report states.

In early March 2018, the City of Vancouver announced 39 new units of temporary modular housing for women – now under construction at 525 Powell Street – would open in May. Thirty-nine units of modular housing are also underway at 1131 Franklin St.

These projects are part of the B.C. government’s $66-million commitment to build 600 new units of temporary modular housing throughout the city to address the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver.

But CCAP members say because these are temporary units, they will do little to address the affordable housing problem in the long term.

And while the province also announced in January it would fund about 300 new welfare-rate units at four sites in the DTES, CCAP volunteer Jean Swanson points out those projects won’t likely be built for years. And they would only partially make up for the more than 500 units that were lost in 2017 alone.

For the next seven years or so, about 1,500 new units of market and unaffordable social housing have been proposed or approved, says Swanson. In contrast, she says, “only 544 affordable units have been proposed or approved – about enough
to make up for the units lost in 2017 to closures, but not enough to make up for units lost to rent increases just last year.”

How do they rate?

Hotels where the lowest rent is $1,000 per month or more:

• Burns Block
• The Lotus
• New Columbia
• Golden Crown
• Georgia Manor
• Argyle
• Metropole
• Low Young Court

Hotels where lowest rent is between $800 and $999:

• American
• Pender Place
• Station

Hotels where lowest rent is between $600-$799:

• Brandiz
• Shamrock
• Laurel Apartments • Empress
• Woodbine
• Ross House
• Heatley Rooms
• Danny’s Inn
• Wonder
• Melville Rooms
• Grand Trunk
• Cathay Lodge

Hotels where lowest rent is between $400-$599:

• Afton
• Belmont
• Creekside
• Grand Union
• Ivanhoe
• Lion Hotel
• NewSunAh
• Patrick Anthony
• St. Clair #2
• United Rooms
• York Rooms
• Arlington
• Chelsea
• Decker
• Harbour Rooms
• Keefer Lodge
• Main Room
• Pacific
• Pender Lodge
• St. Elmo
• Vernon Apartments
• West Hotel
• Astoria
• Cobalt
• Glory
• Hildon
• Keefer Rooms
• May Wah Hotel
• Palace
• Persepolis
• Travellers
• Vets Rooms

Hotels where lowest rent is under $400:

• Sunwest
• Regent
• Hing Mee Society
• Arno
• Tsung Tsin
• King Rooms
• BC Rooms
• Ying Ping Benevolent
• Holborne
• Lung Jen Benevolent

– Source: Community Action Project’s 2017 Hotel Survey and Housing Report.

Editor's note: The amount set aside for shelter costs for people on welfare is $375 per month.

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