News / Vancouver

Grim stats paint troubling picture of Vancouver’s gentrifying DTES

Three years after adoption of new Downtown Eastside local area plan, homelessness is up and life expectancy is down

VAN FentanylMural01 JenniferGauthier.JPG
A mural in an alley in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside depicts the deadly opioid overdose crisis. Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro.

Homelessness is up. Life expectancy is down. Property values have soared by 58 per cent. And the percentage of high-income earners is growing faster in the Downtown Eastside than in any other part of the city.

It’s been three years since the City of Vancouver passed a new local area plan for the Downtown Eastside, a plan that allowed for more real estate development, emphasized increasing the mix of income levels without displacing current residents, as well as investing in economic development in the impoverished inner city neighbourhood.

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City staff will provide an update on that plan to city council on Tuesday, April 11. A report published in advance of that council meeting warns that gentrification in the Downtown Eastside — including Gastown and Chinatown — is pushing out poorer, more vulnerable residents. The city is hoping to mitigate the pressures of gentrification with more economic development.

Between 2014 and 2016, homelessness in the Dowtown Eastide rose 33 per cent, from 730 people to 930.

Life expectancy dropped from 77.6 years in 2007-2011, to 76.94 years in 2011-2015. The drop is especially concerning given that health and drug policy initiatives in the early 2000s succeeded in raising life expectancy.

“As the life expectancy data only goes to 2015, it does not show the full impact of the ongoing opioid overdose crisis,” the report notes.

Child vulnerability rates in Strathcona are still high, and have seen no change since 2014.

On the upside, violent crime is down, while property crime and overall crime reporting is up, a trend consistent with the rest of the city. A range of new housing has been built in the neighbourhood: 538 more rental units and 789 more social housing units, while 1,028 single-room occupancy units have been renovated and 346 more people now receive B.C. government rent subsidies.

While the city has made strides in adding a range of housing for various income levels, it’s proved difficult to add housing for the poorest of the poor.

The number of housing units rented at the $375 shelter rate for welfare recipients has declined: only 17 per cent of housing in the Downtown Eastside was available at that rate in 2015, compared to 25 per cent in 2013.

Data collected by the Carnegie Community Action Project through a different methodology showed that in 2016, just six per cent of housing units were available for those on welfare.

Three social housing sites are proposed on city-owned land. But without a rise in welfare rates (which the provincial government has not raised in 10 years), city staff say it’s difficult to provide the “deep” affordability needed to provide housing to very low-income people.

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