Heather Place public housing near VGH, which is slated for demolition and redevelopment in the coming years, has received significant media attention this week. An article in the Straight, called Heather Place tenants wait in limbo, explains how many tenants are uncertain about their future, concerned about suffering the same fate as their counterparts at Little Mountain Housing. On Wednesday, Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (MVHC), which owns Heather Place, posted on its website a response to tenants’ concerns, in the form of answers to “frequently answered questions.” Vancouver City Councilor Geoff Meggs also appeared on CBC radio to defend the demolition. However, the responses provided by MVHC and Meggs only serve to confirm the fears expressed by tenants.

First, it is now more clear than ever that the majority of the people living at Heather Place will be displaced. There are currently 86 units of affordable homes which house 200 people. After redevelopment rents will increase an extra-ordinary amount. Whereas today the highest rents are around $1,100, after redevelopment two- and three-bedroom units will rent at “competitive market rates” expected to exceed $1,700 and $2,100 respectively. This means that two-thirds of tenants who are not on subsidy will very likely be displaced unless they agree to an extra-ordinary rent increase. For these tenants the Heather Place redevelopment plan is essentially a large-scale “renoviction.”

Translink has announced that in the new year it will raise fares by 10% to 12.5%. But these fare increases are not fair, and the rationale is not rational at all.

With the cost-of-living rising faster than wages, many working people don’t have money left over for transit. The fare hikes will only push the working poor deeper into debt. Even worse, for those living in the suburbs and commuting to work in Vancouver, the increase in the 3-zone fare to $11 per round-trip is atrocious. It means that for those working at minimum wage, their commute will cost them more than an hour’s wage everyday. Further, this $11 roundtrip fare is one of the highest costing work commutes in North America.

A plan to redevelop the Oakridge Mall at Cambie and 41st, unveiled this past week, includes 2,800 condo units in 16 buildings, 6 of which are above 30 storeys. The current developer-friendly City Council is sure to approve the proposal with only minor adjustments. One city councilor anticipated some community concerns about height and density, but my concern goes deeper. I’m not against height or density in the service of affordability, but in this case, height and density primarily serve corporate interests and reflect poor transit planning choices.

Looking at the redevelopment plan, it’s clear to me that the fundamental principle at work is maximization of corporate profits. The developer is asking to triple the amount of housing allowed on the site, which could triple the land value in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars. How much of that value the city recoups to fund affordable housing, and how much the developers keep as profits, depends on the political will of City Council. As it stands, however, only 50 of the 2,800 housing units proposed for Oakridge are planned to have below-market rents – that’s less than 2%.

There is unlikely to be much pushback from City Council. The Oakridge landowner is the Ivanhoe Cambridge Corporation, which cleverly hired the developer, Westbank, and architects, Henriquez Partners, to bring City Council on board with the plan. These firms are very close to the ruling party Vision Vancouver – having also collaborated on the Woodward’s redevelopment in the Downtown Eastside. It does not hurt that Westbank donated $12,000 to Vision’s electoral campaign last fall, and an equal amount in previous campaigns.

Vision Vancouver has recently approved a long-term transportation plan. One of the stated aims of the plan is to increase the percentage of foot, bike and transit trips in Vancouver from 44 to 66% by 2040. Is this one of those “radical plans to attack motorists,” as the editors of the Province claim? Certainly not. Despite a dramatic lack of public funding for transit, Vancouver is already in the midst of a long-term shift away from primary dependence on the private automobile.

The plan is alarming, but not because it represents a “war on the car.” In keeping with the BC Liberals’ premise of austerity and declining public funding, the 2040 plan adopts TransLink’s logic of regressive fees and privatization. Vancouverites should reject the plan first because it accepts the provincial government’s framework of neoliberal financing for buses and trains.

The 2040 Plan is also a developers’ Charter of Rights dressed up as a transportation plan. Under the rubric of transit-oriented development (TOD), the plan delivers a reckless blank slate to developers at the expense of housing affordability. Among other things it builds an umbilical cord between transit funding and new high-priced market condo development. This strategic move by developer-backed Vision goes beyond the policy framework of the BC Liberals pioneered by Kevin Falcon, which ties transit development directly to the private development industry. By approving the 2040 plan the city is positioning itself politically to the right of the provincial government, rejecting the notion of a commercial property tax increase in a city with the second-lowest combined corporate tax rates in the world.

This article was originally posted at timlouis.ca

Much of the past century saw a winning-streak by the right wing NPA, Vancouver’s historic party of wealth and privilege. Pundits talk about Vision Vancouver’s interruption of that NPA legacy, and there has even been talk of the disintegration of the NPA “brand.” By winning two consecutive terms in municipal office, Vision is said to be taking Vancouver in a new, progressive direction.

Both the voting record and the policy agenda of the last four years under Vision reveal that the perceived interruption of NPA rule is a patent illusion. The reality is that Vision’s core policy agenda has been a carry-over from previous NPA initiatives. Eco-density, the Tax Shift, the Chinatown Height Review, increased police budgets and heightened ticketing – for anyone who digs into recent history, these seemingly contemporary initiatives are relics of Sam Sullivan’s 2005-2008 term.

Despite appearances, NPA’s platform is today found front and center, fashioned with a different, greener logo – and with the exception of those bike lanes. On all issues since 2008, Vision and the NPA have voted as a unified block minus the bike lanes.

Eco-density in particular (an NPA initiative under Sullivan) has been slammed down the throats of neighborhoods since Vision’s election in 2008. Rather than forcing monopoly developers to use their empty parcels of land, Vision has used the key tools of NPA ‘revitalization’ policy – area rezoning, tax breaks and fee exemptions – to facilitate the gentrification of existing affordable neighborhoods. Poverty and homelessness are worse then ever, matched in their scale only by the profits of the developers and land owners.


This article was originally posted at timlouis.ca

This week, City Councillors will be returning to City Hall from their summer break. One of the first orders of business will be to consider a large-scale condo development in the Downtown Eastside Hastings Corridor, directly across from the Raycam Community Centre and Stamp’s Place social housing.

The applicant for the project – Vision financial backer Wall Financial Group – is planning to build three 12-storey condo buildings on the site at 955 East Hastings Street. If approved, the project will total 352 units of housing. 282 of the units are proposed as market strata units, with the remaining 70 units planned as rental housing run and owned by the City of Vancouver as “social housing.”

As with the Sequel 138 project at Main and Hastings – where the city will be renting its social housing at a rate of $900/month – the majority of the 70 “social housing” units in this new Wall development will be well out of reach for low-income people. City staff are recommending to council that they rent the majority of these “social housing” units at market rates.


Originally published at timlouis.ca

While the world watches the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London with excitement and enthusiasm, now is the perfect time to reflect on the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and to draw conclusions that the two years that have passed allow us to draw.

In the years leading up to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, many promises were made in an effort to win over public support. One of the most important promises was the delivery of social housing – lots of social housing. By the time the negotiations and roundtables leading up to the Vancouver Olympics were over, there was a concrete promise that if the city hosted the 2010 Olympics, there would be a Housing Legacy with over 3,200 units of social housing constructed prior to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. With the benefit of hindsight we now know that this commitment was hollow. Not one unit was built in time for the Games, and after the big event the idea of a Housing Legacy was dropped.

Those who study the Olympics have documented the enormous amount of public money the Games absorb – not for the benefit of the community but for the benefit of the large corporations that earn sizable contracts and countless benefits. London is in many ways a spitting repeat of Vancouver. In both cities, the promised Olympic Village housing was shrewdly converted into a private gain for investors at the expense of taxpayers. In the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, the municipal governments of London and Vancouver both stepped in as a lenders of last resort for their respective Olympic Village developments, resulting in massive bailouts for investors and developers.