Green Party candidate Pete Fry gives detailed answers on the DTES and Grandview-Woodlands.
- Please explain your role with Our Place, and say what it does and how you got involved.
Our Place is a “collective impact place based strategy” based out of Ray-cam. Our mission is to empower and engage community (inner city families and youth, low-income, predominantly indigenous) into self-determination. Typically, competing social service and NGO programs operate independently of each other in “silos”. We coordinate strategies that puts community at the centre and gets all the program providers accountable to that process. We have had a lot of success and support with engagement and/or accountability pledges from a range of agencies including the Vancouver Police, Park Board, Public Library, School Board, Ministry of Children and Families, BCGEU, several indigenous health and governance organization and lots of social service NGOs and community centre associations.
I’m a coordinator/director and typically emcee and facilitate our big multi-stakeholder roundtables.
- I appreciate that you view the city as one whole, and are just as intent on representing the west side as the east side, it is just that our publication is mostly concerned with the Greater Downtown Eastside, Grandview-Woodlands and Mt Pleasant (and False Creek Flats, everything inside the BC riding of Van-Mt Pleasant). For that reason most of our questions relate to that geographic area.
While president of the Strathcona Residents’ Association you spoke against the current DTES LAP. What was the core of your opposition?
The DTES LAP Process was opaque. We had wide ranging representation but our involvement was token, we were essentially a diverse set of procedural check boxes. We had no input in the definition of social housing, in fact we weren’t even told what it would be until minutes before VISION Council voted to approve the plan.
- The LAP is now 3.5 years old – how do you feel it is unfolding? Are your predictions about its shortcomings being proved in reality or not so?
I could write a lot about what was wrong with the plan, and what was missing — suffice to say that on a policy level I think VISION’s real objective was unlocking the development potential of the DTES, which is ultimately what the Plan does. It really failed on delivering comprehensive benefits for the community and local economic development though. There was a real missed opportunity to secure land and property before the Plan unlocked a rush of speculation.
- The recent closure and removal of a bus stop (subsequently restored) on the south side of the 00-block East Hastings is evidence of how dangerous and chaotic the area has become. What should happen in the 100-block and 00-blocks of East Hastings, the most challenged areas of the DEOD Oppenheimer District? What has Vision Vancouver failed to do if anything, what can and should the City of Vancouver do to improve matters, what can and should the provincial government do and what can and should the federal government do?
I grew up here in Vancouver and have spent the last 30 years in and around the DTES/Strathcona. The first real sea change came in the 90’s with downgrading of Riverview, concurrent with crack downs on welfare (in which our then-premier and MLA Mike Harcourt famously described them as “welfare varmints and cheats”). To follow came crack cocaine, the closure of the government liquor store in Chinatown resulting in an epidemic of Lysol and rice wine abuse, and culminating in a decision to close a lot of the “drug front” sort of businesses like 24 hour shops and cafes that existed along Hastings at the time. That last move proved to be a disaster of unintended consequences – it moved drug dealing and use from the backrooms and shooting galleries and onto the streets and alleys.
All the while, and particularly under VISION’s watch we’ve allowed the city to be denuded of affordable and low income housing stock. Even up until the 90’s, there used to be SRO’s all over the city: Kitsilano, West End, Mount Pleasant, Shaughnessy even.
Today, we don’t see that kind of housing stock available anywhere but the DTES — therein is the fundamental problem. We have concentrated all our poor, addicted, sick and vulnerable into the Downtown Eastside. We need more low income and supportive housing options outside the DTES.
It’s a sad testament to how Vancouver treats the low income and vulnerable – that when folk are at their lowest, we punt them off to the DTES and then blame them when they don’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I find myself explaining this to folk who aren’t from the neighbourhood a lot. Most of us are really just one catastrophic incident away from the same fate.
How we get to place where neighbourhoods are actually welcoming of housing diversity requires first that we are meaningfully engaging communities. As Greens, that’s a big part of our commitment – democratizing neighbourhood groups, resourcing them and meaningfully engaging them in a collaborative co-creative process that would be the foundation for developing a real city wide plan. We don’t see that today, with VISION and the NPA, it’s the developers calling the shots.
One of the most important things the provincial government must do to help this area of our city is increase social assistance rates significantly or institute a guaranteed liveable income pilot. Both the provincial and federal governments need to invest more in social and affordable housing – the principle of housing first helps provide stability to those facing a number of challenges. Ensuring stable and dignified housing and incomes to those living in this area is the most important thing we can do to bring greater safety to the neighbourhood. There’s also a greater need for federal transfer funding and provincial investment in mental health supports across Vancouver and in this neighbourhood.
- What is the City’s role in response to the ongoing “opioid crisis?” Again, what is the province’s role and the feds’ role? Are they doing enough? What else should they do if not?
Obviously, we are responsible for a lot of the direct front line services responding to the crisis. The city dropped the ball on a timely response. The Provincial Authority declared a health crisis in the spring of 2016, yet the city only added on a hasty ad hoc emergency budget amendment to presenting the 2017 budget in November. Sloppy way to deliver policy, frankly and it came very near to failing as a result.
It was tough to get the emergency budget approved, the NPA were set to block it. In fact, any finance vote at Council needs a 2/3 majority to pass. That’s why it is so critical for me to beat the NPA in this by-election.
Despite the failings of VISION and the NPA in this regard, think the city and staff are doing a reasonably good job though. As I mention above though, we do need to confront the idea that with little housing outside the DTES, we really hinder the possibility of recovery for folks who are looking for treatment. It is cruel to expect people to stay clean while given no option but to live surrounded by drug users and the dealers that prey on them.
There’s a huge opportunity for the federal government in particular to increase support to address this crisis – increasing health transfers to support early intervention and ensure our provincial health system can work to address the underlying mental health issues that feed into many addictions. Our new Green-backed NDP provincial government has taken some important steps to improve the provincial government’s response to this crisis, including appointing a Minister and Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. Ultimately what municipalities are calling for are more supervised safe injection sites, to prevent the drug use that is occurring from resulting in so many needless deaths. As the Vancouver Police have rightly said, “We cannot arrest our way out of the opioid crisis” and “immediately accessible” treatment facilities are needed.
- What can and should be done regarding the growth in illegal vending in the DEOD generally and the south side 00-block East Hastings in particular?
Those involved in this exchange of goods/services need economic opportunities. Our city needs to help create more opportunities for people in the DEOD to engage in meaningful economic activity in their neighbourhood, that’s part of the work I’m doing with CEDSAC.
Clearly there is a need for space, 62 East Hastings is at capacity and I suspect Powell Street is too far and why we see the scene on the south side of unit block east. I’m not sure why we aren’t at least utilizing the much larger space at 58 west or across the street at the corner of Abbot frankly. I suspect it has to do with the gentrification coming from the Woodward’s block. But I think we could successfully do something that looks ok with some creative fence finishing in the interim before those sites are developed (as they are scheduled to be).
- 3.5 years since the passage of the DTES LAP, how do you feel about progress or lack of it concerning community economic development? Is CEDSAC working sufficiently well? What could and should we expect to come out of CEDSAC in the months and years ahead?
CEDSAC has some really incredible potential, and we are doing some great work — but the process should have started years ago; this was an action item in the DTES LAP which was passed in March 2014. The city only kick-started CEDSAC in the last year or so, and there has been so much lost opportunity as a result of the development, gentrification and land appreciation since that time.
- Should there be any increase in the total number of welfare rate rental units in the DEOD? What about the Greater DTES? Do you still think the 1/3-1/3-1/3 formula the SRA recommended earlier should be followed? Only two buildings are being built under the official 20-40-40 formula – 42 East Hastings(Atira) and 288 East Hastings(at Gore). What comment do you have to make about that, if any?
The official 20-40-40 is certainly not enough. In general, I support a mix of housing types / income ranges across our city and don’t think it’s a good thing for all or even a strong majority of low income housing being concentrated in the DTES. The reality, however, is that the DEOD and DTES host the vast majority of those on welfare in Vancouver and the City needs to do much more to ensure new developments are providing much more social and actually affordable housing. Of course, we will also need our provincial partners to invest much more heavily in social housing and bring welfare rates up above the poverty line. Yes, I still support the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 model.
- There is ongoing controversy concerning Vision Vancouver’s proposed bike lane or laneS on Commercial Drive. What is your position on the issue?
I’m a cyclist and enjoy riding my bike across the city. On the proposed Commercial Drive bike lane, I know there are very significant concerns from local business that I think we have to take into account. There are nearby streets that are also potential bike routes. I would sit down with stakeholders from the Commercial Drive Business Society, residents and the bike community to find a workable solution for everybody that helps keep our businesses thriving and encourage cycling.
- City hall is bringing in changes concerning new development in Chinatown, such as restricting heights to 90 feet and having smaller frontages. What comment on this and more broadly concerning the future of Chinatown? The Chinatown Concern Group, a part of the Carnegie Community Action Project, wants half of all units in Chinatown to be rented at welfare rate? Is this realistic or even a good thing?
The new development policies for Chinatown are a good thing, I just hope they aren’t too late. I suspect there may be some legal issues that may preclude the city from retroactively changing the developers’ assumed-at-time-of-purchase land use options. But the new policies are designed to slow the out-of-scale development in Chinatown and preserve the character (physical and cultural).
Housing for low income seniors in Chinatown is a critical need, and something I would push hard for, but realistically the kind of build that is required (I’ve heard need for about 700 units) would require some serious funding commitments from other government or partners.
11.Should there be an expansion of treatment options and opportunities for addicts, and what about expanding treatment with psychedelics?
Greens are well known for taking a public health approach to drugs. We support the Portugal model. This approach has allowed many people to come out of the shadows and seek help who otherwise suffered in silence and remained prisoners of their addictions. I would defer to medical experts on which substances work best in helping people transition out of addictions, but would be open to considering the use of psychedelics for this purpose if evidence supports this as a viable treatment option.
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has recently stated that he will not decriminalize street drugs – opioids, cocaine and methamphetamines. Comment please.
I think simple possession should be decriminalized, and those resources might be better served going after trafficking. However, any move toward decriminalization should be done with public health and safety in mind and must be in tandem with treatment, education and prevention. On a federal legislation level, I can certainly see how this would be a hard sell nation-wide.
- Appreciate that the setting of welfare rates is a provincial jurisdiction, but even so what do you think of the increase of just $100 in the last 10 years, given rents in Vancouver and even the DTES. Do you expect another increase in the next six months or a year or so?
A $100 per month increase is totally inadequate. I’m sure those receiving social assistance appreciate the extra $100, but social assistance should provide a dignified standard of living. Greens support a Guaranteed Livable Income, which would provide this dignified standard of living. I expect the pressure on the provincial government to increase social assistance will continue to grow, so there is some likelihood we will see another increase. I am hopeful the new Green-backed NDP government is reviewing the books and looking at opportunities to do better than their predecessors on this file.
- Any comment on the minimum wage issue? If it was up to you, when would the $15 minimum wage come in?
In the city of Vancouver in particular, a living wage is over $20 per hour and would support an increase in the minimum wage to $15 immediately and a move to a living wage that may vary per region, in recognition of the varying living costs across the province and the affordability crisis we have in Vancouver in particular.
- One of your main planks if the overall issue of housing and more affordable housing especially. Can you reiterate exactly what you would do if elected, given Vision would still have a majority? What would you do if the Vancouver Greens had a majority? Please also comment on densification prospects on both the west and east side.
In this by-election we have the opportunity to elect one Councillor. Electing me adds a second Green to Council. This is critically important. Green Councillor Adriane Carr is the only elected Councillor whose party does not take developer donations. She is widely known to actually listen to residents. People have commented to her and to me how they feel she is the only one at Council who actually listens to them. Councillor Carr has worked to introduce a number of important motions on affordability which have not been supported by the other parties currently on Council. A number of these motions have been scuttled, watered down or sent off into the ether of staff referral because she has had to turn to other parties to get her motions seconded as a single representative from a party – electing me and having two Greens elected ensures that Councillor Carr and I can second each others motions as they are, without watering them down, so the issues we bring forward as your elected representatives can see the full light of day and be debated as is, not watered down. That will hold the other parties to account in a way electing anyone from another party cannot achieve.
- What is your position on the Kettle-Boffo Project for Venables and Commercial? The Grandview-Wooodlands LAP has been approved as you know, so this site could see 12-storeys. Comment please.
I understand the concern of nearby residents, particularly with regard to land lift and an attendant increase in housing prices and the cost of business space resulting from the size and scale of the project, but also appreciate how important it is to provide more housing and support to the vulnerable in our community. I think this conflict stems from a completely flawed city regulatory process.
The issue of profits vs public benefits in this particular project have magnified public distrust. Given the developer’s financial relationship with VISION Vancouver and its use of publicly owned land – the project demands far greater scrutiny and transparency.
- Comment too please on the proposal for the Safeway site at Broadway-Commercial – http://urbanyvr.com/broadway-commercial-safeway-site.
There have been a few iterations of designs for this site and there will probably be more. The built form is big but appropriate for the commuter transit volume. I would need more details, in particular about the amount and kind of affordable housing before I could comment.
- What do you consider the public transit and transportation priorities for the City of Vancouver and Metro Vancouver generally, and for the inner city of Vancouver-Mt Pleasant / DTES / Grandview-Woodlands area in particular?
We should be prioritizing a good network of electrified ground oriented surface transit rather than a subway to UBC in my opinion. For the cost, we could permeate much of the city and push more gentel densification.
- What do you make of Jean Swanson’s intention to try to get $5 bus passes for people on welfare? She says a property tax increase will allow the City to pay for it, offset the cost, as happens in Calgary.
Given that Translink is a regional service, not just exclusive to Vancouver – I’m not sure how this could be practically applied only in our city. An idea like this needs to be fleshed out a bit more: how many passes, what is the cost, would there be impacts on paid fare ridership, how much of the network does this cover. An increase to property taxes affects us all contrary to the populist notion that we could levy an extra tax premium just on the super rich (we can’t, but the province could if they elected to). The idea is interesting, but I would want to see something of substance before commenting
- Any additional comment you want to make about anything Pete, especially welfare rate rental housing and rent-geared-to-income subsidized housing. I see in a Metro report that you feel there is room for townhouses and low-rise apartments in some single family areas. Please elaborate.
There’s more in my platform green17.ca/council