Vancouver looks to ‘uplift’ Downtown Eastside, replace all SRO buildings

Vancouver is looking at an “ambitious” plan that would essentially replace all SRO buildings and suites within the city, including the Downtown Eastside, Coun. Rebecca Bligh says.

Speaking to CityNews Thursday, Bligh said she is tabling a motion called “Uplifting the Downtown Eastside and Building Inclusive Communities for All Residents” that would direct city staff to strategically look at the housing crisis and the need for increasing supportive and social housing units in the city.

“[It recognizes] the deepest need currently exists in the Downtown Eastside, and would look at what we can do from a place of zoning and also connecting housing outcomes to local economic development and health services,” Bligh explained.

Bligh says the motion connects the concurrent needs of needing to rehabilitate and protect the city’s nearly 150 SRO buildings, privately and publicly owned.

“Right now, the way the zoning is currently stated [for the Downtown Eastside], it really does limit the ability for these new development projects and essentially new shelter, supportive, and social housing units to be built,” she explained.

“The motion is looking to leverage the city’s role and make sure that we are creating a holistic plan so that people can live in these communities, they can shop in these communities, and they can work in these communities at any income level.”

Bligh says the city also needs to make moves to ensure existing SRO units are livable and safe for the people who need them.

“At the same time, we have private stock that also is aging considerably. And those land owners could leverage, with the support of the federal government, what’s called the RAP funding program which basically [provides] forgivable loans to private developers to rehabilitate and renovate … units without driving up the cost of the rent. They’re forgivable loans but it has baked-in conditions that require rents to stay the same, despite improvements,” she explained.

Bligh says that at the current rate of development and redevelopment in the city, it would take over 100 years to replace the current SRO housing stock.

“If we don’t go aggressively at replacing this dependence on shelter-rate units with dignified self-contained units, we are going to see our homelessness crisis worsen dramatically over the next couple of decades.”

While Bligh reaffirms that it is an “ambitious” plan, she notes that there are nonprofits and community organizations in the DTES that work “every single day to make life as best as they possibly can be while folks are really struggling.”

“There’s an opportunity for the city to play an even greater role in helping those organizations and other partnerships bring out the absolute best that we know can happen in the Downtown Eastside.”

The motion would also ask that Mayor Ken Sim send a letter to BC Housing and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation requesting a partnership to enact the program.

It would also ask that the mayor write to the province, requesting a greater supply of shelter spaces and supportive housing units across the Metro Vancouver region to stabilize and better support people in their home communities.

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