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Power to fix rising rents in private SROs lies with province, Vancouver councillor says

In its ongoing coverage of the gentrification debate roiling the Downtown Eastside, The Tyee reported last week the number of low-income housing units in the downtown core has actually risen slightly over the past two decades.

The story quoted Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang arguing that these new figures show that gentrification isn't leading to the extensive displacement of low-income people predicted by anti-gentrification activists.

There are 12,126 low-income units today compared to 11,371 in 1993, according to a staff report released by the city last month. The number of privately-owned single-room-occupancy (SRO) units has declined, but that was offset by a dramatic rise in the number of social housing units.

The Mainlander, a website that covers municipal politics, faulted the story for failing "to take into account" the homelessness report's finding that only 24 per cent of the units rent at the welfare rate.

The Tyee story did say that city staff are worried about that statistic. Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs said Monday that the report "makes no bones" about how rising rents in private SROs are creating an affordability issue.

But Meggs said council finds it "frustrating" that it gets blamed for the problem when the powers to fix it lie with the provincial government, which could raise the shelter portion of its welfare rates, or impose rent controls.

Meggs said the current monthly shelter allowance of $375 is not enough for most landlords to adequately maintain decent units in their SROs.

The Vision Vancouver councillor said the provincial and federal government have the taxing powers required to fund the social housing need for the region's low-income community.

Meggs said that gentrification in the Downtown Eastside is a concern but is the result of "fundamental forces in the real estate market," not the city's housing policies. The city hopes the ongoing Local Area Planning process will address the challenges posed by gentrification, he added.

The councillor said that the rise in low-income units over the past two decades is partly due to the success of the single-room-accommodation bylaw, which forces owners of SROs to seek council approval of any demolition or conversion of units.

Doug Ward is a Vancouver writer previously with the Vancouver Sun.

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