This week, the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) has released a report entitled “We are too poor to afford anything” citing many businesses throughout the Downtown Eastside as “zones of exclusion.” The report gives examples of businesses that have refused service to some DTES residents and targets specific businesses using a map and worst offender list. The report was picked up by the CBC and Vancouver Sun.
CCAP’s report is accurate in many ways, highlighting the drastic change that is happening in our community. The larger issues of systemic ignorance of the most vulnerable people in our community must stop and that can be achieved through a number of ways, many of which were described in the report. These include a campaign to raise welfare rates, policy to preserve low-income serving businesses, ending the criminalization of poverty, and ensuring jobs for DTES residents, among other goals.
What this report fails to recognize is the amount of work and support that has gone into the new Community Economic Development Plan that was adopted by City Council in November 2016 and was created to establish new and innovative strategies and policies to resolve some of these short- and long-term challenges.
Hastings Crossing BIA, along with over 30 other DTES organizations and agencies, is part of a larger team working to address the community economic development challenges in the DTES. The Community Economic Development Strategic Action Committee (CEDSAC) has a working group that is specifically focusing on retail gentrification and social inclusion. The work of this committee includes conducting research on the types of businesses needed in the community as informed by local residents and working to recruit those businesses. Data from the CCAP report will surely help to inform this work.
Through the work of CEDSAC, a new partnership has also formed between the City and BC Housing called the Community Impact Real Estate Strategy which is seeking to place roughly 60 BC Housing and City buildings that have ground-level commercial retail units into one portfolio. This portfolio will include some businesses that can afford to pay market rent, as well as social enterprises and low-income serving businesses that cannot; the latter rents will be subsidized by being a part of the larger portfolio. The results from CCAP’s research will help to inform the types of businesses that are added to ensure a better retail mix on the street that serves residents in the DTES, but also those who visit and work in the community.
Empty storefronts do not benefit anyone. If a high-end business opens in a formerly vacant storefront, there is at least an opportunity to engage that business to incorporate social hiring and procurement in their business practices. CEDSAC and HxBIA are also working to write such requirements into development and business license policy to help mitigate any potentially negative impact on the community.
In addition to the overarching work led by CEDSAC, we as a BIA have a very intentional mandate to be inclusive of DTES residents’ needs in our business mix and programming. We work with our new and existing businesses to implement hiring and procurement policies in their business practices that incorporate social hiring, or the hiring of people with barriers to traditional employment. These jobs can range from a one to two hour per week task-based job to part- or full-time employment. We seek to connect businesses with organizations like Knack, Mission Possible, and Open Door Group to name a few. We also work to pair businesses with social enterprises in and around the DTES for their procurement needs. These social enterprises work with specific populations of vulnerable people, and our businesses can support them through intentional and strategic purchasing decisions.
We recognize that the DTES community is changing. HxBIA, along with dozens of other community organizations, seeks to ensure that change is positive and happens in a way that benefits everyone in the community, especially those that are most vulnerable.