Tuesday 28 May 2013

Community Builders Development

Community Builders Network (CBN) houses 250 at-risk persons in four privately-funded Whole Life Housing SROs in Vancouver.

Whole Life Housing is cost-effective and ameliorates tenant illness associated with concurrent disorders. Tenant rents pay for CBN-designed tenant support services with some added help from Canada's Homelessness Partnering Strategy and pro bono assistance from a network of professionals committed to CBN's efforts in Vancouver.

CBN has a five-year plan to expand its supportive housing stock to 400 units and to add 100 self-contained, low-income housing units in new and existing market-housing structures.

Whole Life Housing is a true private/public partnership. The outcome of the partnership is a cost-effective and self-sustaining housing continuum that benefits persons with concurrent disorders who otherwise are at-risk to homelessness.

CBN needs capital support to achieve its goals. Capital partnership with CBN's Whole Life Housing initiative is a smart investment. Here's why...

• Low-income and supportive housing is in high demand and Whole Life Housing’s operating budget is self-sufficient.

• Investments are secured by appreciating properties to interim community benefit.

• Whole Life Housing encourages creative and emergent tenant groups, while contributing to municipal low-income housing efforts and benefiting provincial housing and healthcare budgets. The initiative also benefits municipal low income housing efforts and British Columbia's housing and health budget.

Monday 22 April 2013

One Last Walk with Judy Graves by Jackie Wong

From The Tyee
April 12th, 2013

It's one of the first sunny days of spring, and the herons have returned to their rookery in Vancouver's Stanley Park. Judy Graves walks slowly, pausing to admire the wiry herons' nests, the new daffodils, and the fluffy cherry blossoms. The 63-year-old's nails are whimsically painted a lilac pastel that matches her goofy spontaneity and youthful inquisitiveness. "Here," she says, leading us towards the Vancouver Park Board's headquarters. We follow her to a side of the building thick with rhododendron bushes. "When I'm a homeless old woman, this is where I'll live."

It takes a moment to understand what she means. She points to a rectangular covered area with a clean white concrete floor. Short walls provide some shelter from the elements. "The people who live here are usually very organized," she says. "One man, he would cook his food out on the beach. And he just loved the flowers."

The space, so small and hidden by the wall of flowers, is easy to miss. But to Graves, it's one of countless spaces hidden in plain sight that are home to the city's homeless. They are places and people she knows well. She has spent more than half her lifetime working with Vancouver's homeless and hard-to-house, and holds the City of Vancouver's only position as an advocate for the homeless. It's a title she's held since 2010. It evolved from her work through the 1980s, '90s, and the first decade of the 2000s, as the city's tenant assistance coordinator.

Now, her days with the city are drawing to a close. She turns 64 on Wednesday, May 29, a day that will also mark her retirement from a career that has spanned over three decades. In much the same way she's approached other aspects of her life, she decided in January to leave, she says, because it simply felt right. She's not aware of any plans to replace her.

Graves isn't the type to self-aggrandize, but she believes her position should be filled. "I think it's important to have an informed advocate within the system who can speak truth to power. It's very easy for government to start believing its own spin," she says. "And it's important for government to have people they trust within their own ranks. I think it's very important, as well, that there be somebody doing the public advocacy and the teaching for the citizens as a whole."

But so far no one else at City Hall is taking on Graves' mission to educate. While she humbly notes that many others have made a positive mark on the city, few have made such a resonant impact on the individual lives of Vancouver's most vulnerable citizens. "I'm not a counter," she admits, but she estimates the people she's helped over the years to secure housing number in the thousands.

Karen O'Shannacery is a longtime friend of Graves'. She co-founded Vancouver's Lookout Emergency Aid Society in 1971 when she was 20 years old, after living on the streets as a teenager. While she believes the work should continue after her friend has retired, she doesn't expect anyone will be able to fill Graves' shoes completely. "Nobody could replace Judy," she says. "Her impact has really fostered the city taking such a leadership role in ending homelessness within the city of Vancouver, which challenges the whole region and challenges the province. I think she deserves recognition for that."
Read More

Friday 29 March 2013

Gentrification of an empty lot latest debate by Pete McMartin

From the Vancouver Sun
March 26, 2013

On Monday, the City of Vancouver's development permit board met to consider the approval of a new 29-unit residential building proposed for 557 East Cordova St.

It is now an empty lot.

It has been an empty lot for years - for at least 25 years, according to the developer.

That vacant lot is this week's ground zero in the gentrification war consuming the Downtown Eastside, a fight that has, of late, been a series of running skirmishes.

One week it's Pidgin restaurant, the next week it's Save-On-Meats Diner. It's classic hit-and-run guerrilla warfare, though shining flashlights in the eyes of upscale diners and stealing a sidewalk sandwich board are more gorilla warfare than serious engagement.
Back to that vacant lot: The developer, Daniel Boffo, of Boffo Properties, wants to build a four-story condominium development on it. His company assembled the land last year. The lot, which is in what is called the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District, comes with restrictions: A percentage of the development must be dedicated to social housing.

Boffo's proposal meets that social housing requirement. Five of the ground-floor units are dedicated to social housing, with the initial plans calling for three to be rented at welfare rates of $375 a month, and two to be rented at subsidized BC Housing rates of $840 a month.

The remaining condos are to be sold at market prices - a dozen 600-square-foot condos for $231,000, and a dozen 1,200-square-foot condos for $462,000, prices which Boffo claims are the cheapest for new developments in Vancouver. Each condo, including the social housing units, will have access to a communal interior courtyard. It was designed that way to encourage social interaction.
"We worked with city staff closely on this," Boffo said, "so we expect it to be received favourably."

Anti-gentrification activists object to the proposal out of hand: Their argument has consistently been that free-market developers are destroying the fabric of the neighbourhood and driving out the poor and lower-income people who live there. Even the developer's inclusion of social housing in the design isn't enough, they have argued, since the two units to be rented at the BC Housing rates of $840 a month are still too much.

Yet here is the thing about that:

Those five non-market units are to be purchased at cost by the Community Builders Group, an international non-profit that provides housing for the homeless or those living in substandard housing.

Its headquarters are right here in Vancouver, and it operates four residential buildings of social housing here - three in the Downtown Eastside and one on Granville Street. In all, it provides 253 units to those in need. It could hardly be accused of being a rapacious, neighbourhood-destroying developer.

Here is another thing about Community Builders Group's involvement:

Instead of renting out three of the five social housing units at the welfare rates, it hopes to raise enough capital from donors and such partners as Vancity to allow it to rent out all five units at the $375-a-month rate.

"I'm in complete support of the development," said Gordon Wiebe, chair of Community Builders Group. "It represents private development of low-income housing, and there's a strong need for it. While social housing is essential in Canada, it is expensive and (government) can't provide all the needs."

Wiebe said he thought the design of the development was just what the neighbourhood needed - a mix of incomes and diversity.
"The detractors of it who say it will lead to the destruction of the neighbourhood and drive out the poorer residents ... In my mind, that's reductionist thinking. Density and diversity will lead, I think, to a revitalized neighbourhood.

"To my mind, that's the future." He could be right. The development permit board OK'd the Boffo proposal late Monday afternoon.

The Downtown Eastside will now have five new units of social housing, to be rented out at $375 a month, in the heart of one of the most expensive cities in the world, where once there was a vacant lot.

On to the next battleground.

Monday 25 March 2013

A developer makes a cautious foray into Vancouver’s hardscrabble heart by Kerry Gold

from the Globe and Mail
Daniel Boffo is an easygoing 33-year-old with a degree in economics. He is the son of Italian immigrants from a small town in Italy, whose father settled in Burnaby and started a landscape and construction business in 1963. His dad Tarcisio is close friends with another Vancouver developer, Nat Bosa, who was best man at his wedding.

Tarcisio has put his son Daniel and daughter Flavia in charge of the day-to-day Boffo business, which has mostly built projects in the suburbs.

Last summer, the Boffos purchased an empty lot at 555 Cordova, a street where prostitutes hang out, down the street from a soup kitchen. It’s on the fringes of Strathcona, and between the growing Hastings Corridor and downtown. It will be central and affordable enough to attract the young urban crowd.

“We are targeting the cheapest price per square foot in Vancouver, around $385,” says Mr. Boffo. “We’re excited, because it will be a different model, a small, repeatable project that is putting non market and market on the same site.”

It’s also within the heart of the downtown eastside, known as the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer district (DEOD), where there’s a dense low-income population, between Hastings to the south, Alexander to the north, and along Cordova to the east. In that particular patch, there is special zoning that has long required new residential housing to include 20 per cent non-market housing. The 20 per cent rule, as well as the fact it’s skid row, has long turned off developers.

As far back as a decade ago, it was a worry by city planners that as surrounding property values increased, that 20 per cent requirement may no longer deter development of market housing. That day arrived when the Pantages Theatre on Hastings, in the heart of Oppenheimer, was demolished last year to make way for 79 units of market condos, as well as the required 18 non-market units, rental units, and artist studio space.

The outcry from the community was intense. The DTES Not for Developers coalition formed in response and held loud, angry protests. They also briefly occupied the Salient Group’s nearby Paris Annex construction site. That protest was mostly against Salient’s 21 Doors project located on the fringes of Oppenheimer. Close enough, they said.

The Pantages project, Sequel 138, was approved, and it was seen as opening the door into Oppenheimer.

Mr. Boffo’s comparatively small, 29-unit residence is next. It’s currently in the development permit approvals stage, and in order to build it, Mr. Boffo has partnered with non-profit housing provider, Community Builders Group, who will purchase and manage the five non-market units. Based on square footage, Mr. Boffo was only required to include three units, but trying to be sensitive to the issue, he increased it to five.

Community Builders is an international non-profit group that has the formidable task of scraping together financing to purchase low cost housing. They already own 250 low-income units in the area, and with the help of new market development, they have plans to double that number this year. That puts them squarely in the middle, between private development and community activism.

Mr. Boffo is selling the units to the group at cost, says Community Builders spokesman Gordon Wiebe. They will rent all five of them out at the welfare rate of $375 a month, which is also below the requirement. As is, some of the units could be rented for $870 and still be considered below market rate. Most would agree, however, that $870 is hardly affordable if you’re on welfare.

Enter Dave Diewert. Mr. Diewert is the spokesperson for the DTES Not For Developers Coalition, whose name says it all. He helped organize the Pantages protest, as well as a protest against Salient Group, whose 21 Doors project is on the fringe of the Oppenheimer area.

The coalition demands that new downtown eastside developments be entirely dedicated to non-market housing.

Mr. Boffo and Mr. Wiebe both insisted that I speak with Mr. Diewert to present his case, and I’m happy they did. Mr. Diewert knows the details of every new development in the downtown eastside. We met for coffee and he explained to me why he’s opposed to any new market development. He has also made his views about the Boffo project clear to his acquaintance, the housing provider, Mr. Wiebe, who lives in an SRO.

“I said, ‘this is not good for the very people you are trying to serve. You are going to offer five units for a few people. But what’s the effect of the 24 condos on the surrounding neighbourhood? How is that going to affect the low income housing around there? While you decide to work with this fellow for these five units, the ripple effect of gentrification may displace dozens.’

“Housing providers are complicit in that they agree to work on these projects,” he added. “Our fundamental stance is that the project as a whole is a problem, because when you bring condos into a low income area, you raise property values and that has a ripple effect to everything around it.”

He also condemns the much-lauded example of mixed market and social housing that is the Woodward’s Building. He says the building contributed 125 units of social housing, but he estimates another 440 nearby units that changed use or raised rents due to gentrification were lost.

“The social mix in Woodward’s is kind of a joke. I know people who live there, and they say, ‘my self-contained suite is beautiful. But as soon as I step outside, I am told to move along.’ And people in the condos, they take the elevator from their car up to their suite. They’re not living with us. They have a separate entrance. We call the social housing part, ‘Woodward’s East.’”

In a phone interview later, Mr. Wiebe sounded sympathetic, but a touch exasperated.

“If there is 100 per cent social housing, who is going to pay for it?

“We need social housing. Canada has a good history of it. But we also need private options.”

Mr. Wiebe put it well in an open letter: “Wealth is coming to the DTES, like it or not. It’s time to adapt, not to entrench. A social housing desert is a bad option and will never be supported in Vancouver, nor should it.”

New development has already revitalized areas of the downtown eastside that were former ghetto ghost streets. Those streets now have home décor stores and coffee shops. They’re happy streets again. But at what cost to guys like Mr. Diewert and his friends? They’ve formed a tight knit community, and they’d like to stay in their neighbourhood. As property prices go up, the cost of social housing in that area will too.

At the other end of it, Mr. Wiebe is trying to find decent new homes for people living in lousy 10 by 10 rooms. Mr. Boffo is a guy from Burnaby running a family business. He wants to build a small project on an empty lot on a street that could seriously use revitalizing. And he’s trying to be sensitive to existing residents. In comparison to living in an SRO, his 600 sq. ft. non-market units would be a major step-up.

“No one developer, no one city staff member, councilor, architect or community resident will know all the solutions, but if you can all come together you could add to the fabric, not rip it apart,” he says. Keep integrating, adding to it. Diversity is what attracts everybody.

“We are a young city. How do we set roots, to grow something good? I think we’re getting there. We are just going through growing pains.”

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Business can help build a better, more diverse Downtown Eastside by Peter Ladner

Peter Ladner is a friend of CBG and former City of Vancouver Councillor. Notably, Peter is co-Founder of Business in Vancouver Media Group and Vice-chair of Natural Step Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to true sustainability in businesses and municipalities.

You rarely hear DTES advocates protesting drug dealers and pimps coming into the area

How ironic that the same week TEDTalks announced it’s moving to Vancouver because this is such a diverse, vibrant, turned-on city, we have yet another flare-up in the Downtown Eastside (DTES).

It draws attention to our world-class failure to resolve the crippling poverty mental health and drug abuse issues in that neighbourhood. Easy on the self-congratulation, Vancouver.

Media attention has focused on the new Pidgin Restaurant, serving high-end patrons who gaze out over the crazy dysfunction that defines community at Pigeon Park across Carrall Street. Or at least they did until the windows were frosted over to protect them from flashlights shone in their eyes by the Downtown Eastside Not for Developers Coalition. That group’s goal is to “protect” the DTES as a government-financed “social justice zone” where only the very poor and the agencies that support them are welcome. No developers!

Many of the cutting edges of gentrification in the DTES have always struck me as bizarre. An influx of SFU and film students – healthy, active, low-income, community-minded – fits with a gradual transition of the neighbourhood. But the uber-high-end bars, condos, restaurants and design stores? Why here? They serve only to needle the bleeding gap between lower income people and the well-to-do.

Equally I have never understood the complete disdain of the self-appointed spokespeople for the DTES for anyone who isn’t in social housing, as though no lower-income people appreciate the benefits of a mixed community.

Read the rest at Business In Vancouver.
Tue Mar 5, 2013 12:01am PST

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Can Wealth and Poverty Co-exist in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside? by Gordon Keith Wiebe

Recently, CBG unveiled its supportive housing expansion plans for 2013-14. The plans include proposed acquisitions of at least two of the 100 privately-owned Single Room Occupancy buildings left in Vancouver (SROs).

In addition, CBG plans to purchase low-income units in new-construction market housing projects in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES) and make them available as low-income rentals. The combined efforts could increase CBG's low-income and supportive housing stock from 250 units to 500.

CBG has learned that the DTES Not for Developers coalition is opposed to its proposed partnership with developers in Vancouver. The coalition has singled out the Sequel 138 project, a mixed market and low income housing initiative, currently under-construction near Hastings and Main on the historical Pantages Theatre site. According to the developers, the project will provide 79 entry-level condominiums, 18 low-income rental units, commercial rental units and studio space for the arts. DTES Not for Developers states the claims Sequel 138 makes about low income housing benefits are exaggerated.

More importantly, the coalition also believes that projects like Sequel 138 will displace existing DTES residents and also take usable commercial space from local artists and shopkeepers.

CBG is not connected to the Sequel 138 project, but has proposed to partner with similar, small-scale market housing developers. CBG partners will build market housing units on empty lots in the DTES and sell 20% of the units to CBG to rent as low-income housing.

Even though the developers will offer the units to CBG for about 50% of fair market value, the units won't cash flow for CBG because they will be rented for $375, well below market rates. CBG will look for low interest or no interest loans to make the projects work.

Gentrification perceptions have polarized interest groups in the DTES. The City of Vancouver has attempted to hear both the voices of developers and community groups but so far an impasse still blocks development. The blockage exists, not because developers can't get the City of Vancouver to approve their plans, but because community agreement in a sensitive neighbourhood is far from being realized.

CBG hopes to bring meaningful dialogue to the table by constructively stating its position and also asking for a rebuttal from the DTES Not For Developers coalition. CBG promises to publish the response in future CBG communications.

CBG argues that core urban neighbourhoods can house persons of different economic stratification because in emergent environments, like cities, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. It is reductionist thinking to draw a straight cause and effect line between the addition of upscale housing and the elimination of low income housing.

Complexity breeds life into old neighbourhoods. The only difference between a desert and a forest is diversity. The sun's energy shines on both equally. A desert reflects the sun's energy back from whence it same. A forest absorbs the energy and shares it over and over.

Wealth is coming to the DTES, like it or not. It is time to adapt, not to entrench. A social housing desert is a bad option and will never be supported in Vancouver, nor should it.

Canadians of wealth and poverty can live side-by-side and both groups can benefit from the experience. The question is, "Are the two sides willing to share a community?"

In some cases, gentrification is displacing DTES tenants. In 2012, CBG fought hard to protect the Palace and Wonder Rooms from falling into the trap of SRO gentrification; a practice of some developers to renovate SROs and then rent units from $500 - $700 to young working persons and foreign students.

CBG has worked with private investors to provide supportive housing in privately-owned SROs since 2002. Bottom-up operational models meant supportive housing could be provided through self-sufficiency and tenant ingenuity; without expensive program funds from provincial health or housing resources (CBG has been a beneficiary of some development funds from the federally-funded Homelessness Partnering Strategy and Supportive Communities Partnership Initiative since 2005).

CBG has operated the Jubilee Rooms on Main (79 units) and The Dodson Rooms in Hastings (71 units) within a block of the Sequel 138 project and a higher end market initiative, the Koret Lofts, built by the same developer. Little has changed in the Jubilee and Dodson since the opening of the Koret Lofts.

Both the Jubilee and Dodson SRO buildings have been offered to CBG to operate as supportive housing for persons of low-income, indefinitely. The buildings are set to house persons of low-income for decades, even as persons of means are moving into the neighbourhood.

I sometimes wonder if the core of the argument is more political than practical. Vulnerable persons who need housing are not disadvantaged when businesses and charities team up. In true public/private partnerships, both sides should roll up their sleeves and work for the greater good. CBG is not naïve to the fact that the private and public efforts have not always born fruit in community development, but neither is CBG cynical about partnering with community forces for the benefit of all.

Government-funded social housing has a strong purpose in the Canadian social fabric, but a community without private housing chokes self-determination and resourcefulness. A social housing ghetto also cuts low-income tenants off from the natural market environments. The insistence by coalitions that governments should solve all social housing problems could easily be seen more as a political statement than a community development statement.

I have lived in the SROs CBG operates in the DTES since 2002. The buildings were purchased by wealthy Canadians for DTES residents suffering from generational cycles of poverty. Over the years, the tenants have become my friends. Many have lived in the buildings for 10, 15 years, and longer. For some, high mortality rates and multiple illnesses prevent the possibility of meaningful employment and create a palpable difference with other Canadians. However, in many ways the low-income tenants I know are just everyday Canadians, who gladly blend in with all types of income groups in Vancouver.

Before I moved into an SRO, I had bought into the thinking that people living in poverty are not proponents of widespread development. I will never forget a defining moment in my attempt to understand more about the life and perspective of tenants living in the DTES. The moment came over a year after I moved into the Jubilee Rooms on Main in May, 2002.

I moved into the Jubilee when I retired from 30 years of community development work, mostly sponsored by church organizations. In my new life I didn't want to be religious, I just wanted to listen to people living in isolation and poverty. I wanted to understand their sorrows, but also their joys and aspirations.

On July 2, 2003, as many Canadians waited anxiously while the International Olympic Committee prepared to announce the winning city for the 2010 Winter Olympics, I sat on my bed in room 218 at the Jubilee, not at all mindful of the imminent IOC decision. I was startled by a sudden collective cheer which erupted on that hot summer’s day. The tenants were jubilant. Vancouver was the winner.

CBG applauds DTES Not for Developers coalition for standing up for the housing needs of persons affected by poverty. But CBG invites more action-based public discourse focused on creative and diverse housing solutions for the most vulnerable persons.