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Jim Green: The democratic solution

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Jim Green: I am really not sure that will be an advantage to the neighbourhood. Firstly, I think a co-ordination system really needs to be in place, but in looking at the current situation of the Vancouver Agreement which has the three levels of government working together — and is virtually stagnated — makes me wonder how putting another layer of authority in the community would work. I also believe that if someone was appointed, that they would somehow have to have mass support from the existing organizations in the community, and there are about 200 of these. If a new overseer does not have virtually unanimous approval, it could start real turf wars in the community that would lead to a negative situation. However, it is not impossible. When I first worked on the Woodward's project, which is the largest single site project in Vancouver, with 200 units of social housing, 500 units of market, Simon Fraser School for the Contemporary Arts, etc., we were able to bring many groups together who had very serious issues with one another. What we did agree upon is that we would take a vow that in our support of Woodward's we would not let any of these issues interfere with that project. This is one of the reasons that the Woodward's project has succeeded. The short answer is, I think it could be a valuable position but it is one that could also cause great problems in an already vulnerable neighbourhood.

Jessica P. from Canada writes: Do you think that the gentrification of the downtown eastide is contributing to the housing and drug crisis in this neighbourhood? If so, what actions do you think local organizations, the city, and the government can take to protect and assist this vulnerable group of citizens?

Jim Green writes: Gentrification in many respects is the number one threat to low income communities By this I mean gentrification that replaces residents with a high-income group. We have seen this model consciously carried out by the Provincial Government during Expo 1986, which the neighbourhood has never been able to spring back from. Thousands were displaced because there was no support from Government in the Downtown Eastside. Today the situation is different and better. Developers are now offering to incorporate social housing into local developments and to hire local people. These are certainly steps in the right direction as this type of development is not gentrification by my definition, but reciprocal in nature. Also, what we did not have during Expo 1986 is a Municipal single room accommodation by-law, which I was able to get passed when I was a councillor which protects residents from eviction without cause, and hotel residents are now covered by the residential tenancy act and have virtually the same rights as any other tenant in the Province. The landlords most prone to eviction are those who run the Single Room Accommodation (SRA). The provincial government has recently purchased 20 of these SRA's which amounts to about 1500 units. This does not create new social housing, but it offers protection to the most vulnerable group in our society. In short, gentrification does not have to be the enemy. It can be used as a tool to provide extra government funded social housing.

Christopher Spencer from Edmonton Canada writes: There is a lot of pressure on established communities to embrace densification projects. How important is it to ensure new housing suits 'women and children' as a way of preventing future decline? Mostly developers want to build apartments and condos with one bedroom, not that practical for families.

Jim Green: Densification is a very important tool for building communities. We can no longer afford urban sprawl and it is also in my opinion, the enemy of community stability. You are absolutely right that there needs to be a way to ensure that women and children are housed in new developments, and certain arrangements, or even by-laws could be in place that require a certain percentage of any new development to be dedicated to families. In addition, developers could be rewarded with more density if they were to build low income housing targeted at families. To make sure this is done properly, there needs to be a non-government, community-based watchdog.

KL from Montreal Canada writes: Hello Mr. Green, What are your thoughts on DTES evictions from SRO dwellings during the 2010 games. Are you concerned tenants will forced on to the streets like they were in 1986?

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With the 2010 Olympics coming to Vancouver, the eyes of the world will be on the city's Downtown Eastside. The millions poured into the neighbourhood seem to have had little impact on its squalor, its people or their problems with addiction. What should be done? Where would you start? How would you fix Canada's slum?

 
 

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On March 24 at 7 p.m. PT, The Globe, in partnership with CTV and the University of British Columbia, will bring together experts with fresh solutions for the Downtown Eastside at a public forum at UBC’s Robson Square campus.

 

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