Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The DTES needs a good Spring Cleaning

This week, as DTES activists protested a proposal for a 29 unit housing development, that would combine 24 entry level condos with 5 non-market rental units....what can best be described as a welcomed addition to the neighbourhood housing stock....,on a garbage filled vacant lot next to Antoinette Lodge, a social housing project that I helped develop while with CMHC in the 1970's.... I received calls from CTV and CBC to offer my thoughts on the highly publicized concerns about the gentrification of the DTES.  I also discussed the situation with Frances Bula and Lesli Boldt during our regular Civic Affairs Panel on the Bill Good Show.

While I can appreciate the genuine concerns of some community organizers about the potential loss of low income housing stock as a result of new condominium developments and the opening of new restaurants, I feel the situation in the DTES neighbourhood is so bad, that regeneration and revitalization is essential.

And yes, Frances, some of the disgusting SRO hotels that provide cheap housing may eventually get fixed up, and rents will increase from $375 a month to $425 or $475 a month, but is that so terrible, compared to the current situation?  I don't think so.

The reality is that for years the shelter allowance of welfare has been too low.  It's not realistic to expect decent housing to be provided for $375 a's simple not economically viable.  I would prefer to see these buildings repaired and cleaned up with a corresponding increase in the shelter allowance for those who are truly needy. How might this happen?

It might happen if the City more aggressively enforces maintenance and occupancy standards. This is not a partisan comment. The NPA was as lax about this as the current administration.  Yes, I know there is a fear that some hotel owners may close down rather than repair their rat and cockroach infested buildings, but this can be managed.

I am not supportive of the recent Provincial Government announcement to spend $143 million....yes upgrade 12 hotels, some of which have already been upgraded. This money is going to a private sector consortium, and I just know it is not going to be value for money.

What the DTES does need is a neighbourhood plan, and one is in the works.  Hopefully it will prescribe a mix of market and non-market housing, along with new commercial areas and public infrastructure.  But more importantly, we need to review the poverty industry that operates in this neighbourhood, and the effectiveness of the expenditure of so much public money.

I would also like to see the City and community embark on a Spring Clean-up of the area. It's a disgusting mess...yes some areas are better than before...but too many storefronts are derelict; there are too many filthy vacant lots, (like the one at 557 East Cordova where Boffo will build new housing); and too much garbage on the sidewalks and along the back lanes.

Here is a TV clip of some further thoughts shared with CBC's Kirk Williams, who I compliment for genuinely caring about the neighbourhood and the threatening actions of some community activists.


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