Grassroots activism has won social housing above the new library to be built on the 700-block of East Hastings. The development will now include 20 units of family social housing for single mothers and their children. The City of Vancouver’s March 22 media release and press conference announcing the new housing made no mention of the tireless activism that made the housing possible. But the truth is that the City preferred not to build the housing, and had to be pushed every step of the way by residents to make it a reality. Activists held a party of their own to celebrate their housing victory (see Murray Bush’s wonderful article).

“One of the most important things is for us to celebrate our victories,” said Beth Malena at yesterday’s Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) general meeting. Malena told a crowd of 100 DNC members that the housing victory wouldn’t have happened without them. “The City gave zero credit to you all. They probably don’t want to remember that they needed to be pressed to do something that’s such a no brainer.”

The library struggle

Indeed, City Council had to be dragged, practically kicking and screaming. In the summer of 2010, DNC members Fraser Stewart, Rene Belanger, and others collected 1,500 signatures for a petition supporting social housing above the proposed library. The petition was presented to the Library Board and City Council, and the latter passed a motion to “explore the possibility” of housing on the library. But by Oct 7 2010, City staff asked Council to vote against social housing on the library.

It was clear to activists that very little effort had been made by the City to “explore the possibility” (see this letter to Council). Over 50 housing supporters came to the Oct 7 Council meeting to make their case. See here for the video.

The City already owned the land, but Councilors claimed that there was no money to build the housing above. Infamously, Gregor Robertson claimed “there is no money in the drawers” (this was only months after deep cuts to business taxes). Furthermore, Councilor Geoff Meggs argued passionately that it was so urgent to begin building the library that we could not wait even a few more months to secure funding for social housing. As a last resort, housing advocate Wendy Pederson of the Carnegie Community Action Project asked that, at the very least, the material foundations of the library be built such that they could support possible housing in the future. Council voted to proceed with a stand-alone library, with the caveat that the City manager could have an extra month or two to secure funding for housing.

DNC member Dave Murray told the Vancouver Media Coop that after the meeting “we were so let down, they voted 9-1 against us. I remember walking away very depressed thinking that was that.” But activists did not give up. On Oct 21st, a demonstration was held outside the proposed library site, where kids and their parents demanded both books and housing. The next day, activists confronted the Mayor and Councilors at a $500/plate fundraiser lunch with the business elite, demanding that real action be taken to build housing on the library.

Over two hundred people packed themselves into the still-empty Salt building at the Olympic Village on Sunday afternoon. They were there to hear from the City and developers, and to have their say about the 26 story luxury tower planned for Broadway between Main Street and Kingsgway. Most of those who attended were property owners in the area, with a few renters in the mix. Several business owners, renters, and concerned citizens from outside of the neighbourhood were also present.

The sentiments expressed in the room were almost unanimously against the project. Most of the discussion seemed to focus on the height of the building. The development is twice the allowable density for the neighbourhood at an FSR (floor to space ratio) of 6.44, compared to the current zoning FSR of 1 and the allowable FSR of 3 for the neighbourhood. Concerns about the height are focused on several issues in particular. A tall building will set a precedent for the allowable height and density in the neighbourhood in the future. Many attendees claimed they didn’t want a “Yaletown-sized tower” in their neighbourhood, and that this tall building in particular will block sunlight from hitting the well-used streets to the North and East of the development.

The most problematic effect of the tower will be on the affordability of the neighbourhood. It is increasingly difficult to find a reasonably priced place to live in what has historically been a working class neighbourhood. As Mount Pleasant is one of the few remaining “affordable” neighbourhoods in the city, many residents are faced with leaving the city altogether, and Mount Pleasant is their departure point. A luxury tower built without a comparable amount of affordable rental housing built in the neighbourhood would have the effect of increasing property taxes and rents in the neighbourhood.

Another serious problem with the consultation was the social representation at the meeting. Mount Pleasant, in addition to being a working class neighbourhood, houses many immigrant families. A 2008 report by the PIVOT Legal Society was very explicit about the problems faced by immigrant families who rent in Mount Pleasant. It notes the difficulties that many families have with the intimidating prospect of organizing against gentrification. It also highlighted the phenomenon where, in wituations where home ownership opportunities do arise in the neighbourhood, the families who already live there cannot afford them, and they are taken up by usually young white families from wealthier Vancouver neighbourhoods. The presentation by RIZE on what the finished development will look like confirmed that this is the demographic the project is marketed towards.

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This past Saturday, Housing activists established a picket line in front of the Olympic Village condo sales centre, where the City is trying to sell off the housing units promised as social and affordable housing. Picketers engaged with prospective buyers and asked them to “respect the housing legacy picket line” and refrain from purchasing broken-promise housing units until Olympic housing promises are secured and until questions are answered about the Millennium bail-out.

Picketers attempted to enter the sales centre to purchase the remaining units with a larger-than-life $400M cheque from the Property Endowment Fund. The City responded by restricting access to the sales centre. Only those with pre-arranged meetings with realtors were allowed in.

Here are three interactions that stand out:

1 | One woman, who came to the centre to get out of a contract she had signed 7-days previous (it was therefore her last day to do so), was at first barred from entry. Only after 30 minutes of protest did security allow her inside to get out of the condo contract.

2 | A prospective buyer was barred entry because of the clothes that he was wearing (on cell phone pictured above left). Security was given discretion to allow entry based on apparent class.

3 | A family that had planned on buying a broken-promise unit changed their mind after hearing from the picketers. The family emerged from the sales centre and declared that it was immoral for them or anyone else to buy housing that had been promised to those who need it most (video below).


Casino Hearing Begins |

Last night the first of a series of public hearings was held to debate the proposed $500 million mega-casino development on the land adjacent BC Place. The meeting, which began at just after 7:30pm, was preceded by a rally, organized by ad-hoc community group Vancouver Not Vegas.

163 people had signed up to give delegations, but only 11 had time to speak after presentations by staff and project proponents, and questions from Councilors. The majority of the over 300 people present were against the project, but a contingent of union workers wearing yellow “Save our Jobs” shirts, who arrived in charter buses, also filled the council chambers. Representatives of the NPA and COPE were both also present. There were already signs that the casino issue might split the Vision caucus, who have until now voted as a bloc.

The second hearing is being held tonight. The speakers list has now grown to 181. The meetings will then reconvene next Monday, March 14th at 6:30pm in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

Regional Growth Strategy |

Despite what some have called a “seriously flawed process,” Vancouver City Council has voted to accept the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). The policy transfers what are now municipal land-use powers to the un-elected Metro body. The plan replaces the Livable Region Strategic Plan and will stand in effect until 2040. It was opposed in Vancouver by City Councilors David Cadman and Suzanne Anton, with Cadman arguing that it confuses what is now known as the “green zone,” and Anton arguing that it gives up too much municipal rezoning power.

Critics are concerned with the public consultation process. While proponents of the plan argue that the public was engaged over a course of five public hearings, none of the hearings were held in Vancouver. The RGS is a complex plan that many say the public has not had time for it to digest.

Some fear the the RGS will undermine the Agricultural Land Reserve, as well as allowing a general loss of green space throughout Metro Vancouver. The strategy allows for the elimination of some of the reserve, pending approval from municipal councils. A more comprehensive summary of the issues surrounding the policy are available here.

Kingsway and Broadway Tower |

The first public consultation for the 26 story Rize development that is proposed to be built on the South-West corner of Broadway and Kingsway. The consultation will be held on Sunday, March 20th at the Native Education College (285 East 5th Ave). The meeting will begin at 12:00pm with the doors opening at 11:30am.

Community groups are already mobilizing in opposition of the tower, with posters popping up around Mount Pleasant urging residents to attend the consultation.



Corporate developers are ‘betting’ that they can twist enough arms to transform Edgewater Casino into a mega-casino next to BC Place. But resistance has sprung up from across the political spectrum.

The proponents of the $500M project are: the pseudo-public BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), the BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC), and Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming. In this bid, there is no distinction between State and corporate interests, much like when PavCo managed the $400M over-budget Convention Centre project. PavCo is today chaired by BC Liberal-appointee David Podmore, who is currently CEO of Concert Properties. Concert Properties, a major Vancouver development company, donated $8,000 to Vision Vancouver last election (see full list of donors here). Podmore is also the immediate previous Chair of Vancouver’s Urban Development Institute, the city’s leading gentrification think-tank and development lobby.

In early 2009, the Provincial government put out a request for proposal to lease the lands West of BC Place. Only two companies submitted proposals, the winner being Paragon’s mega-casino plan. In March 2009, T. Richard Turner, director of one of Paragon’s gaming entities and investor in Edgewater Casino, phoned BC Liberal tourism minister Kevin Krueger and told him that Paragon would only go forward with the mega-casino project if the government would build a new retractable roof on BC Place (see here and here). Note that while Mr. Turner was negotiating on behalf of Paragon, he was at the same time BC Liberal-appointed Chair of ICBC, as well as director of VANOC. He was also previously Chair of BCLC from 2001-2005.

After receiving the call from Turner, the Provincial government then decided to go forward with constructing a new retractable roof on BC Place for $450M. PavCo’s David Podmore is now managing the ongoing upgrade of BC Place, and has spent this week telling media that the project is on-time and on-budget. Of course, one could argue that the roof was always-already over-budget, since it is a monstrous useless waste of money.


The City of Vancouver stands to profit from selling-off housing units at the Olympic Village that were promised for affordable and social housing. The original Official Development plan for the Olympic Village committed that 2/3rds of the 1100 units would be affordable, half of which would be social housing.

But the City has invested almost no funds toward meeting these promises. Millennium development corporation, which built the Olympic Village, has already paid $29M to the City for the land lease. The City then put forward a similar amount ($32M) toward the few remaining “affordable” units. In short, the City spent almost no new funds on affordable housing. Even worse, these “affordable” units were then transferred to a co-op to be marketed at unaffordable levels.

The City stands to collect another $170M from Millennium for the land lease, but the City has no plans to reinvest any of this profit to meet housing promises. There is ample precedent to do so: the fourteen sites of supportive housing were built by the City putting forward the land without expectation of profit.

Millennium on the hook, not the City
The Millennium development corporation is not bankrupt or insolvent, as many suppose. On the contrary, they remain legally on hook for the construction loan. For now the City has taken control of marketing the Olympic Village properties, but Millennium has many other properties and assets. Instead of going after Millennium’s assets, the City has bailed-out Millennium. Millennium had been paying high interests rates, but the City has waived that requirement. The City is selling off social housing to keep Millennium afloat.

The City has hired condo marketer Bob Rennie to sell-off the ‘broken promise’ units. Bob Rennie claims that he is trying to “protect the taxpayer,” but in fact by liquidating the broken promise units, he is protecting Millennium by ensuring that the City does not go after their assets. [To be continued in Part 2, “Poverty Runs Over-budget at False Creek”]


The story of Chinese investor impact on Vancouver real estate is neither new nor surprising. But recent changes to real estate taxation within China may ramp up hunger for this favored class of investment in offshore locations — and further exacerbate conditions local to Vancouver. In a nutshell, China seems to be on the verge of exporting even more financial froth.

At the same time, China seems to be developing an internal approach to housing affordability that Vancouver needs to emulate.

Beijing has now prohibited residents from buying more than two dwelling units, and non-residents are required to show five years of tax documentation in order to make a purchase (Feb 18: “China home”).

Any Canadian public official who talks about affordable housing in Vancouver should be met with a demand to bring forward similar measures.