Vancouver City Council


General Manager Community Services Group


Downtown Eastside Low-Income Housing Policies



A. THAT the following interim Downtown Eastside and relevant City-wide housing policies be reconfirmed:

B. THAT the planning process for the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown, Gastown, Strathcona Area Housing Plan be reactivated as described in this report, and

C. THAT Council approve the creation of a permanent Planner II position to work on the Downtown Eastside housing plan process and the City's homelessness initiatives, the position level subject to a classification review by the General Manager of Human Resources. The estimated annual cost is $73,831 (to be prorated for 2003) plus start-up costs of $4,000, overtime estimated at $1,000 per year (attendance at public consultation meetings) and $20,000 for one-time consultant and public consultation expenses. Source of funding for fiscal 2003 estimated to be $21,000 is the 2003 Contingency Reserve. Funding for fiscal 2004 and future years is estimated to be $73,831 plus one-time 2004 consultant and public consultation expenses of $20,000 to be added to the Housing Centre's operating budget without offset.


In 1989 Council adopted City-wide housing policy including the objective to encourage affordable housing among all residential neighbourhoods in Vancouver.

In July 1998 Council reaffirmed the following housing principle as part of a set of principles to provide general guidance to Downtown Eastside actions and planning:
· Housing for existing residents will be maintained and upgraded;
· Diversity of housing will be encouraged.

In July 1998 Council confirmed the following housing principles as part of a set of principles to guide the Program of Strategic Actions for the Downtown Eastside;
· Improve Existing SROs and Build Replacement Low-Income Housing.

In October 2001 Council confirmed that its housing objectives for social housing in the city are to maintain and expand housing opportunities in Vancouver for low and modest income households with priority being given to families with children; seniors on fixed incomes or in need of support; SRO residents; and the mentally ill, physically disabled, and others at risk of homelessness;


The purpose of this report is to reconfirm the interim housing policies, provide a policy context for the companion report on managing the rate of change in single room accommodation, and to re-activate the process to finalize a housing plan for the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown, Gastown, and Strathcona area (the Downtown Eastside Housing Plan).


A housing plan for the Downtown Eastside area, shown below, was initiated in 1995 when several controversial developments, both market and non-market, were proposed. The process was co-managed by the Housing Centre, Central Area Planning and Social Planning with the Housing Centre taking the lead. A 3 year process involved extensive consultation with local residents and groups and other levels of government. It addressed the issues of market housing, low-income housing, smaller suites, future of the SROs, and housing for people with special needs among others. During the process, Community Directions, with assistance from the Carnegie Community Action Project, developed a community housing plan and Community Alliance, based in Gastown and Chinatown, developed housing principles. A draft plan was completed in 1998 and is on file with the City Clerk. It was published for public comment in conjunction with the draft Victory Square Concept Plan and the Gastown Land Use Plan.

Housing Area Plan

In 1988 there were significant differences in opinions about the future mix between market and social housing. In addition, other contentious issues came to the forefront concerning how best to address the area's HIV epidemic, high drug use and crime, and the need for economic development. None of the three policy plans were formally adopted. However a series of principles and interim policies were adopted to guide the City's actions in the Downtown Eastside, and the Vancouver Agreement was initiated to coordinate the efforts of three levels of government.

The interim housing policies and relevant City-wide housing plan policies are:

· Maintain and upgrade housing for existing residents;
· Improve existing SROs and build replacement low-income housing;
· Encourage a diversity of housing; and
· Encourage affordable housing among all residential neighbourhoods in Vancouver;

It is timely to revise and adopt housing policies for the area now that progress has been made in a number of related areas such as the 4 pillar drug strategy, heritage management,public realm improvements, Vancouver Agreement, etc. Establishing longer-term housing policies is important to provide security for low-income residents and encourage affordable market housing. This will help to give direction for market and social housing, and contribute to the area's economic revitalization and community development. To provide direction while the plan is being updated, it is important that the housing policies be reconfirmed.


The interim housing policies have been applied in a number of ways described below and provide a context for the companion report "Regulation of Single Room Accommodation".

"Maintain and upgrade housing for existing residents"

This policy relates to the objective of one for one replacement of SROs with better quality housing that is affordable to low-income singles. This means that, on an area-wide basis, the amount of low-income singles housing remains the same. The type of housing changes, as the SROs are gradually replaced with self-contained dwelling units, better managed SROs, or special needs residential facilities (SNRFs), and security is provided to the low-income community.

In the housing plan area, the goal of 1:1 replacement has been achieved so far. In 1991 there were 10, 331 low-income housing units (SROs+social housing+special needs residential facilities). In 2003 there are 497 more units, an increase of 4.8%. Looking at housing replacement for singles only (excluding family social housing and SNRFs), there was a modest gain of 3 units. However the rate of change on an annual basis has been volatile, with significant losses in SROs and spikes in social housing, particularly in recent years before the provincial government cancelled its HOMES BC program.

Conversion and demolition controls are one tool to achieve the policy of maintaining housing for existing residents. Action is needed now, given the volatility in the SRO stock and the uncertain future of senior government involvement in new social housing production. However, over the longer term, the SROs are substandard housing and need to be replaced, and the Downtown Eastside Housing Plan will provide a direction and context for addressing the future of the SROs and their replacement.

"Improve existing SROs and build replacement low-income housing"

There are currently 5,093 SROs in the housing plan area in 125 buildings. Most of these are reasonably well managed but a minority are poorly managed or affected by the illegal drug trade and other social conditions. A variety of efforts have been made to improve living conditions in SROs. Coordinated enforcement, including other levels of governments, has increased. Several SROs have been purchased by the City and the Province, and are now managed by non-profit societies. Through the Vancouver Agreement, a pest control education program, pest control local business and an SRO management course have also been developed.

"Diversity of housing will be encouraged"

Market housing in the area has increased. Since 1998, over 350 units of condominiums have been built or approved. The City has and will continue to take initiatives with heritage incentives in Gastown, Chinatown, Hastings Corridor where facade grants, density bonuses and about $70 million in tax relief will be available over the next ten years.

"Encourage affordable housing among all residential neighbourhoods in Vancouver"

This speaks to the issue of concentration of low-income housing versus dispersal, and providing more choice for low-income people. It means developing social housing in other parts of City, region, province. There has been some success in recent years. Since 1998, 1,400 units of social housing, including 400 for singles, were developed in Vancouver, outside the housing plan area. The federal homeless funds have resulted in transitional housing being provided in New Westminster, Surrey, and the North Shore. There is also an increased awareness of homelessness in the region and the need for affordable housing.



The revised housing plan will confirm or suggest adjustments to the interim policies, and recommend implementation actions. The purpose of the plan is to provide a framework for housing development over the next 10 years. The work will be done recognizing the Vancouver Agreement and other government programs and will recommend policies to balance the City's objectives and community interests.

To renovate or replace SROs, opportunities will be explored using city-wide development cost levies, the federal government homeless funds, social housing sector expertise, interest from the private sector, etc. Supportive housing is clearly needed but poses challenges in that appropriate zoning and operating funds are needed, both of which are limited.

Additional attention will be paid to how living conditions in the SROs can be improved. Incentives will be explored to recognize good management. There may be more opportunities through Vancouver Agreement funding to continue and expand the SRO management course, potentially linking with the Standards of Maintenance By-law and business licensing. Some changes will likely be recommended to the Standards of Maintenance By-law regarding the minimum area permitted per bed.

Further financial analysis will be done regarding the economics of operating SROs. As people who live in SROs generally have low incomes, affordability in rents is very important. From an operator's perspective, revenues limited by the welfare rates combined with high expenses can make it difficult to operate. Discussions will be held with SRO managers/owners to determine what kind of incentives or links to other business opportunities (liquor licenses, ground floor commercial operations, etc) might help. This analysis might also lead to advocacy with senior levels of government regarding housing policies and programs, welfare rates, renovation grants, etc. Affordability is an important issue, not only in SROs but in other rental housing in the area. Council has recently passed a motion expressing concern to the provincial government about the welfare rates and the increasing shelter costs for residents of SRO hotels.


The initial step will be to update the data for the area. Following this, staff will review and where necessary, update, the housing issues, objectives, policies, and implementation tools identified in the draft plan. Some meetings will be held with stakeholders, leading to a draft revised plan being presented to Council. It is likely the draft plan will then be recommended for public input at stakeholder and community meetings (estimated to be up to ten). The draft would be revised and put forward to Council for decision. The intent would be to complete the work for Council consideration this coming spring.

Once the housing plan is underway or approved, the related draft plans for Victory Square and Gastown Land Use will also need to be re-activated and staff will report back on these.


A similar structure as the previous draft plan will be used to manage the housing planning process, bringing together the perspectives of several departments wherever possible. However this work and other housing/homelessness work requested by Council will require resources beyond which is now available in the Housing Centre.

A Planner II is needed to manage the process. This is a permanent position which will cover not only the housing plan preparation, but its implementation. This will involve working on housing policies in other areas of the City, including housing policies for singles outside the Downtown Eastside. The position will assist with other housing policy work in the Housing Centre including the city-wide housing policy review, and pro-active responses to housing policy changes of the provincial and federal government. In addition, Council has directedstaff to develop comprehensive responses to homelessness. This position would provide assistance to the Senior Housing Policy Planner, in the Housing Centre, who has recently been appointed as the City's Homelessness Policy Coordinator.

The final classification of this position will be subject to review by the General Manager of Human Resources.


Implementing the housing planning and policy process outlined above will require additional resources in the form of a Planner II position as well as one-time equipment and consulting resources in the form of consulting funds. The estimated annual cost for the Planner II is $73,900 plus start-up costs (computers and equipment) of $4,000, overtime estimated at $1,000 per year (attendance at public consultation meetings) and $20,000 for one-time consultant and public consultation expenses, including advertising, postage, hall and equipment rental, printing and translation. Source of funding for fiscal 2003 estimated to be $21,000 is the Contingency Reserve. Funding for fiscal 2004 and future years is estimated to be $73,831 plus one-time 2004 consultant and public consultation expenses of $20,000 to be added to the Housing Centre's operating budget without offset.

It should be noted, if Council approves the staff positions in this report and its companion report, Regulation of Single Room Accommodations (RTS03569), four new positions associated with housing will be added to the City's operating budget (one permanent and three temporary). As the City currently dedicates almost $600,000 annually to housing issues, the addition of these four new positions will bring the total annual cost to the City associated with housing to between $840,000 and $965,000 per year.


The housing plan for the Downtown Eastside area is needed to ensure stability of the low-income housing stock and residents. It is also needed to provide direction to help in the economic revitalization of the area, including the development of affordable market housing.

* * * * *