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BC Rooms hotel, across the street from the proposed condos at 557 E. Cordova, was where MLA Jagrup Brar stayed during his welfare challenge in 2012.

The Vancouver Development Permit Board will hear yet another Downtown Eastside condo project proposal on Monday. The low-income community has already spent much time and energy on futile trips to City Hall to protest their displacement by more and more condo developments in the DTES. All protests have fallen on deaf ears – at both Development Permit Board and City Council public hearings. In lieu of protest in person this time, our frustrated community is sending our opposition by email to see if it will help Development Permit Board members and City Councillors to actually consider the reasons why people oppose the 24-unit condo project at 537 E. Cordova. Perhaps their reading abilities are better than their listening ones… Wishful thinking we know, but if you are interested in joining this opposition, please send a letter to mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca or go to the Development Permit Board hearing, Monday March 25, 3pm at City Hall Town Hall meeting room. While we continue to come up with other strategies for protest, we support all efforts to continue speaking in person. Register to speak by calling 604-873-7469 or lorna.harvey@vancouver.ca.

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Daniel Boffo is a young developer born into a family real estate development company far from poverty and the streets.

That’s why, at last month’s public information meeting about the condo project he wants to build on the block between Oppenheimer and the UGM shelter, I was astonished to hear him compare himself to people on welfare living in nearby SRO hotel rooms.

Herb Varley, a young Nuu-chah-nulth and Nisga’a man who lived in a hotel down the street for two years, told Boffo that hotel residents are there because they have no choice. “No one wants to live in hotels,” he said, “but the other option they have is the street. If you build a condo here, it will push up land and rent prices and you will push those people out on the street.” Daniel Boffo didn’t flinch. He said that people don’t get to choose where they want to live; “I want to live in a mansion on the water and I don’t get to do that.” Then he said that if low-income people want to be comfortable in other places besides the Downtown Eastside they should get out there and stop being prejudiced against higher income people.

article photo, credit Tami Starlight

DTES residents and allies from across the city vow to continue picketing Pidgin restaurant at Carrall and Hastings until it packs up and leaves. They aren’t asking for jobs, sympathy or token charitable gestures. Picketers are saying “no” to the incursion of business interests upon low-income homes and livelihoods.

According to DTES resident and picketer Fraser Stuart, “shutting down Pidgin sends a message to all gentrifiers: the DTES is not open for business until our housing needs are met. We need 5,000 new welfare-rate units to meet the need, and they have to go in before any more condos go in.”

solterra

Solterra President Gerry Nichele (centre) with VP Mike Bosa (right)

EDITOR’S NOTE | On Jan 20th 2013, the Waldorf Hotel will close its doors to the public. For the last two years, developers have been quietly buying up property along the Hastings Corridor while building support from city councillors. The result has been a dramatic escalation in property values, followed by evictions and rent increases. While evictions are typically poorly covered by mainstream media, the eviction of the Waldorf has been making big headlines. This cultural space, however, has a backstory that links it to other evictions and to the broader neighborhood of which it is a part.

Vision Vancouver and the revitalization of East Hastings

For the past two years the real-estate industry has been aggressively acquiring property in the area east of Clark Drive on the Hastings Corridor. This forward march of developers into the east end, actively encouraged and brokered by Vision Vancouver, has brought dramatic increases in the value of property in the area surrounding the Waldorf. The price of the Waldorf property has increased $1 million in the past year alone. The blocks surrounding the Waldorf site are being consolidated by the Solterra Group, a large property development corporation, with the Waldorf site being the last piece of the puzzle. Solterra, who purchased a table at Vision’s recent fundraiser, is run by Vice-President Mike Bosa of the Bosa family of developers, also reliable Vision funders.

Across the street from the Waldorf is 1500 East Hastings. This past year, the entire block was purchased for $5.5 million by Sharam and Peter Malek of Millenium Development, who were bailed out by the City during the Olympic Village social housing betrayal.

Dec 11 - BCHousing_Sequel protest - photo 1

Currently there is a debate raging about the pros and cons of Save-on-Meats in the Downtown Eastside. The latest is a polarizing sandwich token program to help feed the poor. According to the plan, restaurant customers can purchase tokens from Save-on-Meats and donate them to people in the neighborhood. Critiques have been made here, here, and here, as well as at The Mainlander, with Peter Driftmier’s “Beggars Can’t be Choosers” (Peter used to be a sandwich maker at Save-on-Meats).

The reception of these debates runs a winding path but gravitates to the falsely-posed question of whether people “like” or identify with the entrepreneurial genius behind Save-on-Meats: Mark Brand. “The frontier,” Neil Smith wrote in his New Urban Frontier, “represents an evocative combination of economic, geographical and historical advances, and yet the social individualism pinned to this destiny is in one very important respect a myth.” Mark Brand, treated as either a hero or villain of the urban frontier, enters the field of mythology and becomes a new Jim Green figure for our time, garnering a similar respect for balancing “social” and business concerns (if Green started in politics and moved into business, Brand seems to finish where Green left off and moves back into “politics”).

We all know the expression, “beggars can’t be choosers.”

With one month left before Christmas, Downtown Eastside restaurant mogul Mark Brand Inc has launched a meal token program targeting clientele who would like to support people in need. The idea is that the meal token, which goes for $2.25, can be given to panhandlers in place of spare change. Each token is redeemable for a breakfast sandwich at the window of Save-On-Meats, Mark Brand Inc’s only location affordable for those on modest incomes.

The following description of the program is found in the press release announcing the program:

“The Meal Tokens solve the dilemma that many people find themselves in. The reality is that people are hesitant to give money rather than food to people who they see on the street. With the Meal Tokens, donors can rest assured that what they give will be going towards providing much needed sustenance and at the same time, supporting Save on Meats’ social enterprise.”

Should BC Housing subsidize a Downtown Eastside (DTES) condo developer when our neighbourhood has 850 homeless people and 3500 living in crummy hotel rooms that need to be replaced? Is Condo King Bob Rennie, also on the Board of BC Housing, behind a sweet deal that will probably increase property values two blocks away from his own office?

These are two questions that shocked Downtown Eastsiders are asking after learning that BC Housing plans to loan up to $23 million to condo developer Marc Williams. Williams plans to build 79 condo units plus 18 social housing units (only 9 will rent at welfare rates) at the site of the old Pantages Theatre, 138 E. Hastings. He calls the project Sequel 138. According to The Province, the loans will be at 1.29 % interest, much lower than the going rate from a bank.

Along the north eastern shores of False Creek, between Science World and BC Place, lies a vast expanse of land owned by developer Concord Pacific. The parcel of land hosts Concord Pacific’s sales centre and is used primarily as rental space for special events.

Recently however, the lot has become host to an urban farm run by a group called SOLEfood. SOLEfood is a self-described “social enterprise” that grows produce in order to sell it at farmers markets, as well as directly to local restaurants. While initially funded by grants and donations, the project aims to be self-sustaining.

While Concord Pacific is leasing the property to SOLEfood for three years at no cost, the farm is highly profitable for the developer. Under the City of Vancouver’s tax classifications, the property would normally be designated class six: “business or other,” with a taxation rate of 1.75 per cent. The presence of the urban farm re-designates the lot to class eight, or “recreation and non-profit,” which lowers the tax rate to 0.56 — less than a third of the original rate.

Concord Pacific’s project map shows that the company intends to develop a number of sites on the lot, near where the Georgia Viaduct now sits, by 2020. The SOLE in SOLEfood stands for Sustainable, Organic, Local, and Ethical. With a three year lease on a lot intended to be developed in less than a decade, it would seem that sustainability is not its strongest feature.

Concord pays around half a million dollars per year in taxes on the property, 10 Pacific Boulevard. In a recent interview with Zoe McKnight of the Vancouver Sun, the company estimated their savings via SOLEfood in the $15,000 range. However, if the new urban farm tax rate is applied to the entire property, Concord will pay only one-third of its taxes, saving instead over 300 thousand dollars per year.