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