Fewer welfare-friendly rentals in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside this year

VANCOUVER – Only 12 per cent of privately owned hotel rooms in the Downtown Eastside are rented at welfare-friendly rates this year, down from 29 per cent in 2009, says an annual housing report obtained by The Vancouver Sun.

Of the 3,500 private hotel rooms in the low-income area, the number renting for the welfare rental subsidy rate of $375 fell to 362 rooms in 12 hotels, down from 777 rooms in 19 hotels last year, the third annual report by the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) says.

“Gentrification of the [Downtown Eastside], spurred by Woodward’s and market housing development, is a major cause of the rent increases, which will also help to push low-income residents out of their … community,” says the report Pushed Out: Escalating Rents in the Downtown Eastside, to be released today. “It is crucial that Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel rooms, the last stop before homelessness, stay open and affordable until replacement housing is built.”

The housing advocacy group’s report estimates there are 10,000 Downtown Eastside residents who can ill afford monthly rents of more than $375, as well as about 700 homeless people.

The report acknowledges recent work of the provincial and municipal governments on the social housing file, noting “2010 was a really good year for newly built units and provincially owned hotel rooms opening up.”

However, the report argues the 220 newly renovated rooms in previously empty provincially owned hotels and the 150 new units in Woodward’s do not make up for the 67 rooms lost by the closure of two private hotels (Argyle and Lucky Rooms) plus the 415 extra rooms that CCAP says are renting this year for more than $375.

Governments often challenge the conclusions in the CCAP report.

A report prepared for city council this week argues the total low-income housing stock in the downtown core remained relatively stable between January 2003 (11,390 units) and January 2010 (11,340 units). It noted that by 2013, more than 1,100 non-market housing units will be added due to the construction of new government-owned buildings.

The CCAP report rejects the city’s numbers, alleging they are artificially inflated by including units that were not empty before the government renovated them (and therefore can’t be considered new) and by units that are not self-contained (such as ones without private kitchens and bathrooms).

The CCAP report makes a number of recommendations, including enacting rent controls; making “low-income housing” affordable to people on welfare; raising welfare rates; buying land for new social housing units; and stopping condo development for a decade while new social housing is built.

The report is to be released in front of the Columbia Hotel, where CCAP says rent was increased from $375 per month to $600.

Source: The Vancouver Sun

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