Monday, February 12, 2007



On Tuesday, Feb 13, 2007, Vancouver City Council will be making a decision on whether to implement an anti-conversion by-law, brought forward by Councillor Tim Stevenson. This motion would, it has been suggested, make it difficult for developers to convert their falling apart SRO properties. But whether, this potential by-law will solve Vancouver's increasing homelessness is debatable.

SRO accommodation refers to the single rooms occupancy Hotels which according to some misguided activists, provide affordable housing for the poor.

Many Downtown Eastside social housing advocates, believe this type of housing is a last stop measure before someone hits the street, rendering them homeless.

But my concern is this. Is this type of housing really affordable and safe?

Well if you ask those who live in many of these dilapidated shacks, whether they are comfortable living in their accommodation, the answer is always a resounding No. They do not consider these places, homes.

For the most part, many of these properties are terribly old and have outlived their shelf life. Many are dangerous, unhealthy places to live.

There are a few exceptions of course like the Lotus Hotel, where a socially conscious businessman, Mark James, gutted the Hotel and completely rebuilt it to ensure those living there enjoyed clean, comfortable, safe and affordable accommodation. And he did it working with government and on his dime.

But the problem is, the majority of SRO's are not of an acceptable standard. They are neither suitable nor affordable accommodations, specially when you consider what you are paying for. Often, your home is without a kitchen or washroom. You usually share the space with other creatures. Many which are not pleasant.

Due to the ages of the buildings, it is difficult to get appropriate insurance coverage and whether people should be living in what amounts to be fire-traps and unhealthy housing is of concern.

As my readers may be aware, many of these Hotels have recently been purchased by developers. There is real fear, that residents will be kicked out of their SRO accommodations so that developers can turn a profit with their newly acquired properties.

And On Tuesday, Council will be struggling with this issue as it debates how to assist lower income people with their housing needs.

My belief is that the DTES needs re-vitalization. After all, a ghetto should never be viewed as a neighborhood . My hope is that this re-vitalization can be done without hurting poor people or displacing them. After all this community has historically always been home to lower income households. But the neighborhood also enjoyed a strong working class and middle class element. Various communities lived alongside each other quite harmoniously.

And it can be done again.

I believe, many lower income residents of the DTES should be involved in restoration plans for the neighborhood. Moreover, my neighbors do not need to live in unsuitable crude style housing. We can look to the Habitat for humanity style homes to assist lower income individuals and families.

We can re-zone our industrial lands, paving the way for newer style housing which are geared to income.

We can build suitable affordable homes for people. Its not that difficult

And people do not need to be homeless in the meantime. The city can use its imagination and work with speculative developers to assist them in creating affordable housing. Hopefully, churches will also step forward and work with the various levels of government to build quality housing on their land.

Where there is a will, there is a way. And as sure as I'm sitting here, I'm not certain, placing heavy restrictions on private property developers will bring needed solutions.

And while Council debates tomorrow, lets hope that the various warring factions on Council, collectively put their heads together and come up with creative ideas to ensure respect, dignity and quality housing is afforded to our neediest citizens.

Continuing to accept or promote SRO's as an effective or affordable solution to our affordable housing crises is not that just or humane. Its irresponsible thinking and certainly isn't the appropriate way to go.

Let's hope that the smart thinkers rule supreme tomorrow.

Jamie Lee Hamilton


At 11:42 PM, Anonymous Sean Orr said...

Just because they're run down, you're willing to kick the residents out of the only accommodation they have? Of course its only a bandaid solution, but if they don't do this, then they don't do anything. The Feds and the BC Lieberals aren't doing anyhting, this is the least we can do. Literally.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Jamie Lee Hamilton said...


It's easy for those who are not forced to reside in SRO's thinking its OK to place our neediest citizens in this substandard style of housing.

I suppose those who do think this way probably thought it OK to place our Aboriginal people on reserves where many citizens languished in substandard housing and unhealthy conditions as well.

Saying band-aids are OK, in my opinion, only entrenches conditions which harm people. Just like the Welfare state has hurt people.

Examples of other band-aids include the proliferation of food banks. This band-aid does not provide for acceptable nutrition needs nor does it ensure optimum health and it doesn't provide for appropriate food security.

I'm not for creating these band-aids. Just like I'm not for creating supposed band-aids to other issues like the sex trade issue. Which by the way, where has this gotten us?

Band-aids create class systems which I don't believe furthers humanity.

At 10:05 PM, Anonymous Sean Orr said...

So, in the meantime, you are willing to have these tenants evicted as Condo developers buy up the hotels? And you're telling ME about a class system?

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Jamie Lee Hamilton said...


I heard that you took in your first council meeting yesterday. So you finally found your sense of civic pride.

Your lack of knowledge though regarding the Downtown Eastside is typical of those who jump onto a cause for the sake of jumping on a cause. But where is your previous actions to assist those who are truly marginalized and poor?

You assume just because someone purchases a Hotel that somehow they are just really mean Condo developers who are going to crap on poor folks. You are wrong. We have many private enterprizers who are decent and have purchased these old run down places and worked with the community and government to fix them up at their own expense to ensure that lower income citizens have quality housing to live in.

Your assertion that poor people should remain in substandard Hotels is typical of those who do not have to live in deplorable conditions. Its also typical of those who do not walk in poor people's shoes.

Here is a cold hard fact for you Sean. Aboriginal people comprize 17% of the DTES population yet comprize 45% of tenants living in SRO's. Moreover when it comes to replacement housing, only 1% of Aboriginal citizens are housed. You think that is acceptable too?

And I notice you quote Kim Kerr like he is a savior of the Downtown Eastside. Well here is a little secret of Mr. Kerr. During the Expo evictions, your Mr. Kerr was a staff person at DERA. He REFUSED to picket the Hotels because it was outside his normal working hours. Don't believe me just go ask Jim Green or Mark and Liz at the Portland.

You may wonder how I know this. Well because I was at DERA in those days and unlike Kim Kerr, I participated in these actions against these Hotels who were evicting people. I also made a personal statement by NOT attending this world's fair.

And don't even try and compare the Olympics to Expo 86. Expo was a six month fair which attracted mainly regular folks. The Olympics however, attract mainly the elite, official people and government people. Plus I believe its a three week sports celebration.

So Sean, I hope you continue to participate in civic matters. Your trip to City Hall and holding of a little sign at Council chambers yesterday was a start.

But don't pretend for an instant that you are all rightous when it comes to assisting the poor. I'll continue with my brand of activism which I think provides real solutions and real change.

My record just for the record goes far beyond than just holding up a little sign at City Hall..

At 6:33 PM, Anonymous dirk said...

First Let me say I appreciate your blog good show.
As for the SOR's I understand what you are saying.But,when one is on welfare,single,can not find a roommate etc the DTES is where you end up.
The rooms are not ideal far from it.Having lived in the area myself and in SOR's on more than a few occasions.
Any one on social assistance is allowed 325$ for shelter,the choices of living accommodation's is very limited.
Until the city invests in social housing it would be a mistake to close to many of the SRO's.Many of the people would end up on the street.The rents in Vancouver are much to expensive for those on welfare,or who are considered the working poor.
I think the best solution for now is to prevent conversion to hotel rooms for the Olympics..(its all about profit pure and simple.Much as during Expo 86,when the tourists left,or their expected profit from Expo tourists failed to materialize,the same people they kicked to the curb were allowed back)...
While at the same time enforcing laws that owners must upgrade SOR's to a minimum respectable condition.
If they fail,city workers go in and do the work.One floor at a time,while accommodating those affected by upgrading
Until that time that Social housing is available to rehouse those that due to many factors find them selves in the DTES,living in reprehensible and soul destroying conditions.
Once there is a alternative..(indeed welfare checks financed these owners for decades,if not for welfare they would have problems filling their pathetic rooms,when do they give a little back,when do they help the community that allowed them to make a living for all these decades)... ,than the owners can apply for conversion,at which time I can not see why any one would be opposed

At 7:34 PM, Anonymous Stephanie Smith said...

There are very, very few private developers who are interested in rehabilitating SRO housing stock to continue housing low-income residents, not when there's so much more money to be made by tearing them down and building condos. These buildings are generally in poor condition and nearing the end of their useful lives, so engaging in massive renovations is often perceived to involve throwing good money after bad.

While enacting a conversion moratorium is only a band-aid solution, it's a way to keep people from ending up on the street right now. If it's done without an immediate move to build many units of low-income housing then it will be nothing more than a bandaid solution and a failure. But if folks can stay housed, even in those substandard conditions, while new housing is being built, then a conversion moratorium would be a useful part of a strategy to end homelessness.

In your statement that you can't compare the effect of hotel conversions due to the Olympics to the ones that happened due to Expo, you forget to consider that although Expo was a must longer event, the Olympics-related construction is going to bring thousands of workers to the city and hotels will convert to house them. The Golden Crown is already proposing to do exactly that and has issued (probably illegal) eviction notices to their tenants.


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