“We Are Too Poor To Afford Anything” says Carnegie Action report

Maria Wallstam of Carnegie Action Project pictured at top, and bottom, Landon Hoyt, executive director of Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association.

THE CROWS magazine is here presenting, for readers’ information, the full text of a report by the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), and a response to it by the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association. Both reports are from earlier in 2017 but are still highly relevant and inform the ongoing highly important work of the Community Economic Development project, an undertaking by city hall and up to 40 other DTES organizations and individuals.

First, the report by CCAP, a group out of Carnegie community centre that campaigns for more social housing and other anti-poverty measures. CCAP quite the ‘strategic action committee’ of the economic development initiative in January, complaining the interests of its constituency was not being fairly represented.

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We are too poor to afford anything.”

Retail Gentrification Mapping Report Carnegie Community Action Project

Thank you to: Andres Oswill , Beverly Ho, Elvis Wilson, Godfrey Tang, Hendrik Beune, Herb Varley, Ivy Au, James Kistino, Jenny Waters, Karen Ward, Kai Rajala , Lama Mugabo , Mrs. Kong, Mug Fang, Phoenix Winter, Priscillia Tait, Victoria Bull, Wilson Liang, Xing Junma, Zhou Xiu Lian, James Kistino, and all the people who attended our townhalls and meetings.

Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP)

c/o Carnegie Centre, 401 Main St., Vancouver,

Unceded Coast Salish Territories, BC V6A 2T7

www.carnegieaction.org

REPORT
CCAP is a project of the board of the Carnegie Community Centre Association, which has about 5,000 members, most of whom live in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver. CCAP works on housing, income, and land use issues in the DTES so that the area can remain a low-income friendly community. CCAP works with DTES residents in speaking out on their own behalf for the changes they would like to see in their neighbourhood.

CCAP acknowledges that our neighbourhood lies on the Unceded Territories of the Coast Salish People: Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh.

Thank you to the Community Economic Development Strategic Action Committee for supporting CCAP’s work. Support for this project does not necessarily imply that funders endorse the findings or contents of this report.

Printed in Vancouver February 2017.

Introduction
In the winter of 2016, two years after the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan was approved, the City initiated a Community Economic Development (CED) strategy for the Downtown Eastside. The strategy was initiated in the context of the highest homelessness count ever recorded in the neighbourhood. In 2016, 972 people were counted as homeless in the DTES and with a total population of about 18,000, that means about 1 in 18 people are homeless in the area. Another 3,000 people live in private SRO hotels, often without access to kitchens.

Over 13,000 people are on social assistance in the Downtown Eastside. 5,803 are on disability, 3,068 are on welfare and another 4,000 seniors survive on pensions. Others live on minimum wage or receive no income at all. For many people on social assistance, living on less than $17 a week after rent is paid, the only way to survive is to rely on illicit and non-market economies. This might entail street vending, panhandling, selling stolen goods, shoplifting, dealing drugs at the street level and or doing sex work. It also means having to rely on free and non-market sources of food, clothes and other necessities.

Historically the City’s approach to the illicit economy in the Downtown Eastside has been to criminalize the people involved. But in recent years, with the expansion of harm reduction governance policies, municipal politicians have been conceding that they cannot police-away the illicit survival economies of the poor. The government’s interest in controlling and managing the illicit economy has also been increased by the demands of moving along the gentrification of Hastings Street quickly and uninterrupted.

The Community Economic Development plan is the City’s most recent attempt to manage and control the illicit economy in the DTES. At its core, the plan is an attempt to repackage unregulated economies, which officials are referring to as “survival work,” as a new form of entrepreneurialism. The plan positions survival work and the informal economy as part of what it calls the “self employment livelihoods continuum,” placing low-income survival on the same spectrum as “venture entrepreneurship.” As part of this approach, the plan supports gated street vending spaces recently established by the City and measures to regulate the work of binners, street vendors, and sex workers through social enterprises.

Street vendors have different sources for the things they sell, but all are outside the legally regulated economy. Those who scavenge through unsafe and unsanitary garbage bins do so without the protections of the labour code or Worksafe BC. And those who shoplift goods are at serious risk of security guard violence, police arrest, and incarceration. The City’s economic development plan only legitimizes street vending at the point of sale, covering up the danger and criminalization of the production of the goods for sale.

Even at the point of sale, the publicly visible part of vending, the DTES economic development plan reinforces the criminalization of those excluded from the limited state-sanctioned spaces or forms of vending. For example, since the designated gated street vending sites opened in the Downtown Eastside, the police have been cracking down harder on people vending on the street.

Instead of challenging the forces of displacement facing the neighbourhood, the criminalization of the low-income community, and austerity cuts to welfare and social services by senior governments, the message of the DTES economic development plan is that there is no alternative. It pretends that the best we can do is to try to extract some benefits from the forces of displacement through social enterprises and other token concessions by business owners.

With the DTES economic development plan the City of Vancouver is failing to address the underlying causes of poverty and it continues to criminalize the ways low-income people try to survive. And when it comes down to it, this plan, like all its previous incarnations, is not about addressing poverty or income inequality. This plan is about controlling poverty and making it palatable to the middle class residents moving into the neighbourhood.

Maria Wallstam, CCAP Coordinator, Initally published in The Volcano

STEP 1: Community Consultation
To start the project CCAP held a town hall about gentrification and the loss of affordable retail on June 11th, 2016. The meeting was attended by over 60 DTES residents and it was translated into Cantonese and Mandarin. We discussed what affordable retail we have already lost in the neighbourhood, places where people shop or eat and the reasons why people shop in these places. We also talked about zones of exclusion, places where people do not shop and or eat, and what makes these retail stores exclusive.

Summary of findings
Non-profit places, big chains stores with low-prices and Chinese grocery stores and restaurants were the most popular places to shop and or to eat.

Affordability, proximity, quality, non-judgement and sense of community were some of the top factors people mentioned as important in choosing where to shop and or eat.

New retail stores, cafes and restaurants in the more gentrified parts of the Downtown Eastside were listed as places where people do not shop or eat.

Price, language, prejudice and security were listed as some of the top factors that made retail exclusive to low-income Downtown Eastside residents.

Soon after the town hall we started two retail mapping committees, one English-speaking and one Cantonese. Each committee used the feedback from the town hall to come up with criteria that we could use for our survey and in order to identify different kinds of retail in the Downtown Eastside. The committees produced two surveys, one for English-speaking shops and one for Chinatown.

In the survey, we considered prices, if there was any low-income people present in the store, or if we knew that this was a place that low-income people came to. We also considered if it was a place that in our opinion contributed to gentrification. In Chinatown, language was also an important consideration. Some of the questions that the survey asked:

    1. Can you afford the average product in the shop?
    2. Do you feel judged and or stigmatized?
    3. Were there were other low-income people in the shop? Is this a place low-income people visit?
    4. Does the shop sell things that serve the basic needs of low-income residents and low-income chinese seniors?
    5. Was there signage in chinese or did staff speak Cantonese or Mandarin in the shops in Chinatown?

Once we had finished the survey, we started doing the survey of retail in the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown. All the surveying was done by low-income Downtown Eastside

residents and over 20 different low-income Downtown Eastside residents, half of whom were chinese seniors helped out with the surveys throughout July and August. We surveyed the Downtown Eastside Oppeneheimer District, Chinatown and the Hastings corridor from Campbell Avenue to Cambie. Over 450 shops were surveyed throughout this period.

STEP 2: Creating the survey
Where welfare money goes
Look for Work ($25): To look for work and contact the welfare office you need a phone, so $25 is included below. There are no funds for transportation.

Hygiene ($10): The approximate amount you need for keeping yourself and your clothes clean.

Room Deposit ($20): You have to pay a damage deposit; usually ½ of a month’s rent. Welfare takes this off your cheque at $20 a month until the deposit is paid, usually in 11 or 12 months. In theory, when you leave the tenancy you should get the deposit back, but many times the landlord keeps the deposit.

Rent ($479): The amount provided for rent is $375, but it is almost impossible to find anywhere for this rate. Even in the DTES most single rooms costs $479 a month*.

“We are too poor to afford anything”

The initial goal of the project was to identify retail that caters to the low-income community. However, we quickly realized while doing the survey that even the businesses that are more affordable and welcoming to low-income people do not really meet the needs of people on social assistance. The answer to the question “Do you afford anything in this shop?” was 9 out of 10 times: “No, only on cheque day.” The BC government provides $610 a month in welfare to a single person, without a recognized disability, who is expected to look for work. It has been at this level since April 2007. Once rent and other essentials are paid for, a person on welfare has $76 left to spend on food for a whole month. This means that a person on welfare has only $18 (at most) to spend on food each week.

This means that even if a shop is relatively affordable (and also welcoming to low-income residents), a person on welfare can hardly afford to buy anything at market rates. Instead, people on welfare and disability have to rely on non-market or free sources for food, such as food line-ups, Union Gospel Mission, the Evelyne Saller and the Carnegie.

While more affordable and inclusive retail does not truly meet the needs of low-income residents, they do not either contribute to gentrification and the loss of low-income housing in the neighbourhood. However, as the neighbourhood changes, it is likely that these businesses will also start to increasingly cater to higher income residents. This is why we decided to restrict the category of low-income serving services and businesses to non-profits with a social mandate.

What kind of business?

Gentrifying Retail and Zones of Exclusion
Gentrifying retail is retail that caters to and seeks to attract higher income residents or visitors. These retail spaces makes the neighbourhood more attractive to middle class people and incentivises further investment.

Zones of exclusion are spaces where people are unable to enter because they lack the necessary economic means for participation. Zones of exclusion are also sites marked by increased surveillance and policing. Only those with status, privilege and wealth can enter; all others are carefully watched, interrogated, and criminalized.

Non-Gentrifying Retail
The majority of the retail in the Downtown Eastside is what we call non-gentrifying retail. Most of these businesses have been in the community for a long time and low-income community members regularly shop at these places when they have money. These shops don’t have a gentrifying impact on the neighbourhood but it is possible that as the neighbourhood changes, these businesses will start catering to higher income residents.

Non-market “retail” with a social mandate
These retail spaces are mostly non-profit run with a social mandate to cater to the low-income community. Their prices are significantly below the market prices in the area and they make an effort to make low-income people feel welcome.

Type of Business

Number

Zones of exclusion / Gentrifying retail

156

Non-Gentrifying Retail

201

Non-market retail

6

Vacant store fronts

84

This is the response from the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association

In response to “zones of exclusion” report

This week, the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) has released a report entitled “We are too poor to afford anything” citing many businesses throughout the Downtown Eastside as “zones of exclusion.” The report gives examples of businesses that have refused service to some DTES residents and targets specific businesses using a map and worst offender list. The report was picked up by the CBC and Vancouver Sun.

CCAP’s report is accurate in many ways, highlighting the drastic change that is happening in our community. The larger issues of systemic ignorance of the most vulnerable people in our community must stop and that can be achieved through a number of ways, many of which were described in the report. These include a campaign to raise welfare rates, policy to preserve low-income serving businesses, ending the criminalization of poverty, and ensuring jobs for DTES residents, among other goals.

 

What this report fails to recognize is the amount of work and support that has gone into the new Community Economic Development Plan that was adopted by City Council in November 2016 and was created to establish new and innovative strategies and policies to resolve some of these short- and long-term challenges.

Hastings Crossing BIA, along with over 30 other DTES organizations and agencies, is part of a larger team working to address the community economic development challenges in the DTES. The Community Economic Development Strategic Action Committee (CEDSAC) has a working group that is specifically focusing on retail gentrification and social inclusion. The work of this committee includes conducting research on the types of businesses needed in the community as informed by local residents and working to recruit those businesses. Data from the CCAP report will surely help to inform this work.

Through the work of CEDSAC,  a new partnership has also formed between the City and BC Housing called the Community Impact Real Estate Strategy which is seeking to place roughly 60 BC Housing and City buildings that have ground-level commercial retail units into one portfolio. This portfolio will include some businesses that can afford to pay market rent, as well as social enterprises and low-income serving businesses that cannot; the latter rents will be subsidized by being a part of the larger portfolio. The results from CCAP’s research will help to inform the types of businesses that are added to ensure a better retail mix on the street that serves residents in the DTES, but also those who visit and work in the community.

Empty storefronts do not benefit anyone. If a high-end business opens in a formerly vacant storefront, there is at least an opportunity to engage that business to incorporate social hiring and procurement in their business practices. CEDSAC and HxBIA are also working to write such requirements into development and business license policy to help mitigate any potentially negative impact on the community.

In addition to the overarching work led by CEDSAC, we as a BIA have a very intentional mandate to be inclusive of DTES residents’ needs in our business mix and programming. We work with our new and existing businesses to implement hiring and procurement policies in their business practices that incorporate social hiring, or the hiring of people with barriers to traditional employment. These jobs can range from a one to two hour per week task-based job to part- or full-time employment. We seek to connect businesses with organizations like KnackMission Possible, and Open Door Group to name a few. We also work to pair businesses with social enterprises in and around the DTES for their procurement needs. These social enterprises work with specific populations of vulnerable people, and our businesses can support them through intentional and strategic purchasing decisions.

We recognize that the DTES community is changing. HxBIA, along with dozens of other community organizations, seeks to ensure that change is positive and happens in a way that benefits everyone in the community, especially those that are most vulnerable.

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. The challenge that most NGO’s face is that they are managed by well meaning folk who by definition lack the mean spiritedness of their foes in the economic community. This major deficit almost guarantees that organizations like CCAP are unlikely to attain any meaningful positive change. Sad but true…

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