Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood has needed more safe, stable and affordable supportive housing for decades. Recently, rising rents, stagnant income assistance and intense property speculation have led to a homelessness epidemic. This crisis is made worse by the neighbourhood’s other intersecting crises, including unsafe drug supply and the poor condition of housing. While the neighbourhood faces many complex challenges, it also has advantages for low-income residents such as being close to health and social services.
The Downtown Eastside Community Land Trust demonstration project will use a community land trust to help address those challenges. A land trust could acquire property for permanent use as deeply affordable housing and public space for DTES residents. First, however, the project will establish the land trust’s framework, vision and goals. This includes establishing tenant-centered, non-hierarchical governance and outlining a holistic housing model that is determined by and for the DTES community.
3 Key Innovations
The project will use a decolonized governance model and is co-led by Indigenous peoples and people working first-hand with DTES residents.
Its services, which are aimed at supporting single room occupancy residents, are designed and implemented by people with lived experience.
The program’s tenant-led programming will empower residents, encourage community building and create a culture that is unique to each building.
Project scope and expected outcomes
Establishing the foundation of a community land trust in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood
Vancouver’s single room occupancy (SRO) buildings have historically housed the city’s low-income residents, but rents are continuously rising. This makes them unaffordable to residents in the city’s DTES neighbourhood, most of whom receive income assistance. Many SROs are poorly maintained, leaving residents to deal with vermin and frequent outages of water, heat or electricity.
This project will establish a guiding vision and core values for a DTES community land trust. Land trusts are non-profit corporations created to acquire and hold land for a community. The land is perpetually held in trust to provide access for community use, such as affordable housing. Land trusts are membership-based organizations, governed by an elected board of directors, and often made of community members and non-profit organizations.
The Downtown Eastside Community Land Trust would acquire property for permanent use as deeply affordable community-owned housing. This would protect the property from changes in the real-estate market that can cause rents to increase. It would also ensure the property remains available for community use and enable community-specific housing, such as urban Indigenous housing.
Implementing a holistic, tenant-centred housing model
With support from the National Housing Strategy Demonstrations Initiative, the Downtown Eastside Community Land Trust will implement a holistic, resident-centred housing model. It will be non-hierarchical and decolonized. This means that members will be equals and activities will centre around community member input and participation. The demonstration will work to bring them together to collaboratively design and implement strategies and governance for the land trust.
Each SRO acquired by the community land trust will feature tenant-led and tenant-directed programming. These programs will empower residents, encourage community-building and provide additional income to low-income tenants. They also will give buildings unique cultures that reflect their residents, rather than a one-size-fits-all supportive housing approach.
The housing model will be holistic, incorporating food supports, health and harm reduction and community living. This will help address many of the intersecting crises within the DTES neighbourhood and build a healthy community. This includes cultural programming for urban Indigenous populations and Indigenous-led housing.
Community consultation with tenants and people experiencing homelessness and lived experience
Community consultation with National Housing Strategy priority groups is central to the demonstration. These groups are overrepresented in precariously housed and SRO residents in the DTES: an estimated 33% of SRO residents are Indigenous. The project begins with consultations with local non-profit organizations and community groups before moving to widespread consultation with DTES residents. These wider consultations will determine the land trust’s community vision, core values and strategic direction.
The community consultation will work with tenants and people experiencing homelessness and lived experience. Participation will be as accessible as possible, with flexible scheduling, creative activities and personal follow-up. Participants will receive fair compensation for their time and expertise. Indigenous leaders and knowledge keepers will also be consulted on decolonized governance structures.
Following the priority building and community design, the project will work towards developing and implementing a strategy for the land trust. his will cover the next 5 years. The trust will be formed once the governance, priorities and bylaws are approved by tenant leaders and community supporters.
A community land trust model for holistic housing that will have a positive impact on affordable housing
A tenant-led land trust that uses a holistic housing model will have a deep impact on affordable housing in the DTES. Over the short term, it will gather data about immediate housing and support needs for low-income and marginalized people. Over the longer term, it will increase the amount of affordable supportive housing by acquiring properties. It will also empower tenants through programs and initiatives that they design and lead.
While the project’s specifics will be adapted to the DTES community, its methodology used can be repeated across Canada. Engagement activities and research tools will be carefully documented, as will Indigenous insight into governance and holistic housing models. These will be released through a series of publications throughout the project.
These findings could provide a blueprint for other decision-makers on how to return land and community control to communities. It could also provide important guidance on how to implement meaningful collaboration with communities that have been traditionally marginalized and overlooked.
Program: National Housing Strategy Demonstrations Initiative
Demonstration Title: The Downtown Eastside Community Land Trust
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
Get more information:
Email Innovation-Research@cmhc.ca or visit our website to learn more about the initiatives under the National Housing Strategy.
Interested in learning more about community land trust solutions for affordable housing? Join the Expert Community on Housing (ECOH) CLT/Land assembly virtual community of practice!