NORTH EAST FALSE CREEK |

A new deal between the city and the Concord Pacific development corporation might further change the social geography of Vancouver. The deal would grant the City two properties along East Hastings that will supposedly be designated for desperately needed 100% social housing.

The first site is 117 West Hastings, next to Insite. After buying the property specifically for the purposes of speculation and horse-trading, Concord put a “community garden” on it to avoid paying property taxes.

The second site is the empty lot at 58 West Hastings, which hosted 2010’s Olympic Tent Village. Concord also bought this land for the purposes of speculation and horse-trading. They claimed to have had plans to put 160 condo units on the lot, but for over two years have also been working behind the scenes with the Portland Hotel Society to pull off this North False Creek swap.

In exchange for these two sites, the City will waive the 20% social housing requirement on 4 properties in North East False Creek, where Concord plans to build condominium towers.

The two sites on Hastings are estimated to be valued at $13M. It is not yet clear how much money the social housing exemption on North False Creek is worth to Concord Pacific, although it is likely greater than the value of the two sites.

If the sites are transferred to the City, it would mean no social housing in the North-East False Creek neighbourhood of Yaletown, continuing the trend of “self-segregation” by the moneyed classes. The NPA are complaining, saying that social housing should be spread around the city, which is ironic given that NPA-linked architect Michael Geller proposed eliminating social housing from the Olympic Village, an action that sparked significant controversy. Vision-led city council cut the social housing at the Olympic Village last April by 50%.

DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE CONDOS |

Community resistance has been building against the City’s upcoming Downtown Eastside condo tower plan (“Height Review”), which proposes 7 new 15-storey condo towers for the Downtown Eastside. In response to the claim in a City staff report that there was little community opposition to the condo plan, a press conference was held yesterday, Jan 17 by a coalition of Downtown Eastside organizations opposed to the condo plan — including Chinese, Aboriginal, and low-income residents groups, as well as small businesses and artist collectives. Council is planning to vote on the condo plan this Thursday, and will no doubt hear from dozens if not hundreds of speakers.

The city has confirmed that public consultations will be held before any individual projects are accepted. However, as opposition to the gentrification plan seems to be falling on deaf ears, residents are worried that future consultations will have the same result.

NEW ART GALLERY |

The Vancouver Art Gallery is looking for a new home. The Art Gallery has been campaigning to move since last May. The current building was not designed to be an art gallery and, as a result, there are both spacial and environmental concerns.

Council is set to approve a proposal to hold onto the Gallery’s preferred new site, directly east of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The policy report also proposes a closer relationship between City staff and the Gallery.

The location is notable historically as being the site of riots and labour protests. While it is now a parking lot, and was also once a greyhound bus depot, it was in the past known as “Larwill Park” and acted as a place for meetings and demonstrations, serving a function similar to the current Robson Street public square.

IMGP7620
The 10 SITES COALITION of Downtown Eastside organizations has issued a statement opposing the “Historic Area Height Review,” which goes before City Council on January 20 2011. The so-called “Height Review,” which the Coalition calls the “condo tower plan,” anticipates 7 condo 15-storey condominum developments in the Downtown Eastside – 2 North of Pender between Carrall and Abbott, and 5 in South Chinatown.

The Coalition statement outlines concerns that market condo gentrification is causing rent increases, renovictions, displacement of low-income residents, increased police harrassments, and erosion of community assets.

A three year community-mapping process from 2007-2010, facilitated by the Carnegie Community Action Project, identified “unique and authentic community assets” of the Downtown Eastside community (for the series of three reports, see here).

The Coalition statement asks Vancouver City Council to “vote against adding any new density for condos within the Downtown Eastside until the assets and tenure of low-income residents are secured and until the Social Impact Study and DTES Strategy are complete.”

The statement asks Council to instead take proactive measures to stop gentrification by “[buying] 10 sites for low income resident-controlled social housing within the Downtown Eastside before the next municipal election [in Nov 2011]” (click here for a list of the 10 sites).

The City’s administrative (see page 15) claims that there is broad community support for the condo plan, with the exception of one group:

Community groups were also generally supportive of the draft Rezoning Policy, noting however that the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) remains concerned about the impact of new development on the low-income community.

But the Coalition letter to City Council, dated Thursday Jan 13 2011, is signed by a dozen organizations, including:

Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society
Carnegie Community Action Project
Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council
Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre Power of Women
REED
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction
W2
Gallery Gachet

The next day, Jan 14 2011, Vancouver City Councilor Geoff Meggs told The Mainlander “so far, I have not seen any negative comment on the current report from Chinese community leaders or activists, but plenty from those who live elsewhere.”

Meggs referred the “Historic Area Height Review” incorrectly as the “Chinatown Height Review,” and suggested that the new condo developments were all South of Pender. As mentioned, two of the most controversial sites are North of Pender, including the half-block BC Electric site across from Pigeon Park.

The 10 SITES COALITION is calling on residents and allies of the Downtown Eastside to speak to City Council against more condos: “Before you can speak, you have to phone 604 873 7268 and ask for Tina Hildebrandt. Tell her that you want to speak on the issue of the Historic Area Height Review (that’s what staff is calling the condo tower plan) on Jan. 20.”

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM |

Legislation that would make Vancouver municipal parties disclose their donors and would cap corporate donations and overall campaign spending, might be in jeopardy. While the legislation has the support of the municipalities themselves, including Vancouver, several BC Liberal candidates have said the legislation is no longer a priority.

Campaign finance reform is increasingly important in Vancouver, where wealth disparity is growing. And with real-estate developers, often anonymously, pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into civic campaigns to influence planning decisions, campaign finance reform cannot come too soon. The legislation was to be enacted before Vancouver’s upcoming November election. Are the Liberals stalling to help their wealthy associates?

HEIGHT |

A public forum will be held tonight at 6:30 at the Vancouver Public Library discussing the future of height in Vancouver. Details on a live stream of the forum will be available here. This forum is just a part of the community convergence that has occurred around this issue.

In an interview last week, City Director of Planning reiterated that the city planning department “believe[s] strongly in the value of engagement and consultation.”

The Mainlander recently reported on the negative impact the proposed height increases would have on the Downtown Eastside (DTES). This past Saturday, Jan 8, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) general membership voted overwhelmingly to oppose this DTES condo tower plan.

When there is a rezoning, the City negotiates with the developer to extract contributions that will “benefit” the community (e.g. parks, social housing units, jobs, etc); on Saturday the DNC also voted to oppose the current method whereby residents are shut out of these negotiations.

Council is set to vote on the proposal for 7 condo towers in the DTES at 2:30 on Jan 20 2011. The public is welcome to speak on the rezoning policy, which can be found here.

A memorial service for the three men who died in an East Van house fire was held Saturday at the Longhouse Council Native Ministry.

Garland McKay, Dwayne Rasmussen and Steven Yellowquill died on Dec 22 when the porch they were living in at 2862 Pandora St. caught fire.

On Saturday, the Longhouse was filled to capacity with friends and family. The service began with a song led by Traditional Mothers. Morris then asked the mourners to stand up and share memories of the three men. For friends and family, it was a day to honour the men and their strengths. A picture emerged of the men as compassionate, respectful, and selfless.

At Saturday’s memorial, a broad picture of the men’s journey and challenges also emerged. There were many preventable factors creating the conditions for the tragedy.

The three men came from First Nations across the country (Rasmussen from Mount Currie, McKay from Kelowna, Yellowquill from Manitoba) to Vancouver looking for opportunity, but were unable to access appropriate non-market housing. As a result, the only housing that was accessible to them was the unsafe and inadequate “rooming-house” at 2862 Pandora St.

Gregor Robertson’s 2008 campaign for Mayor rode the Obama wave. At the time, however, positive comparisons between the two were decidedly false. Ironically, present criticisms of the American president apply equally to Vancouver’s Mayor.

In 2008, Obama was an eloquent and inspiring speaker, and Gregor an embarrassing one. I attended an early Robertson campaign event in the Dowtown Eastside, after which the 70-year-old woman sitting next to me remarked with conscious understatement: “not very inspiring, is he?”

Obama was a thinker — almost a pop-philosopher! And while Obama cultivated a blank-slate image onto which voters could project their hopes and dreams, Gregor could not escape the perception that the blank-slate was between his ears.

The most realistic likeness between Gregor and Obama in 2008 was that their supporters were Obama fans. These supporters longed for a politics that appealed to the best in people, a politics confident in the capacity for transformational collective action to overcome inequality, poverty, and discrimination.

In the summer of 2008, neo-liberalism had been thoroughly discredited, and voters had not yet forgotten that responsibility for the financial crisis lay squarely at the feet of right-wing policies. They voted in droves for Obama, who promised hope over fear, and for Gregor, who promised to End Homelessness by fighting day in and day out for the most marginalized in our City.

Comparisons between Obama and Gregor in 2008 were largely false. Ironically, in 2010 the comparison is far more plausible.

Marshall Ganz, who managed the grassroots component of Obama’s presidential campaign, recently published an influential article in the Los Angeles Times, outlining the reasons for Obama’s failure in his first two years. The analysis is similarly useful for evaluating Gregor Robertson.

A house fire on Pandora Street took three lives last Thursday. The event instigated the right-wing NPA to call for an inquiry. However, to ensure tragedies like this do no happen in the future, it is necessary to abandon anti-tenant rhetoric in favour of a more proactive approach that empowers tenants.

No one wants to live in poor housing conditions like those of the Pandora Street house. But in the absence of safe and affordable housing options, renters must choose between inadequate housing and homelessness. And in the absence of strong tenant protection by-laws, fear of eviction condemns tenants to an intolerable status quo.

Several media outlets have drawn attention to the requests for an independent inquiry. Some argue the lives would have been saved had the City shut down the home on account of the illegal living situation. But this would have led to eviction of the nine people living inside, and there were many opportunities for the City to take more proactive action to assist the tenants. Further, it is difficult to ignore that many of the proponents of this ‘eviction solution’ are inspired by intolerance rather than compassion for the tenants themselves (e.g. see the comments at the bottom of this Sun article.)

IMG_0193

It is common for Vancouver journalists to bemoan the “fiasco” of the Olympic Village, but they are so often bogged-down in financial matters above their pay-grade that they forget the true fiasco of South East False Creek. Indeed, the Village embodies a profound scandal. At the core of the scandal is that governments broke their social housing promises at the site and then lied about it.

The original plan for the Olympic Village was that 2/3rds of the 1100 units would be affordable, a full half of which would be social housing for those most in need (“deep core”).

The rationale for these promises goes back to the very start of the Olympic bid process. There was much concern that Vancouver’s affordability crisis might grow on account of winning the Olympic bid, pushing the most vulnerable residents into homelessness. In their Inclusivity Statement, the Olympic partners committed to mitigating these impacts, and to providing a positive social housing legacy through projects like the Athletes’ Village at South East False Creek (SEFC). This latter promise was repeated constantly by government officials for years in the lead-up to the Olympics.

A rigorous community planning process between 2003 and 2005 produced the Official Development Plan (ODP) for South East False Creek (SEFC), which was approved by Vancouver City Council on 19 July 2005. The exact wording of the Plan read:

“The goal for household income mix is one-third low income, one-third middle income (or ‘affordable’ housing) and one-third market.”