image3

During the last weeks of August, many Vancouverites spent time checking out the city’s first annual Mural Festival – an exhibition of 35 murals by over 40 local street, graffiti and mural artists mostly clustered around the lower Main Street corridor. The event was sponsored by a $200,000 grant from the City of Vancouver, with additional support from Mount Pleasant BIA and Burrard Arts Foundation

DSC_8856

What better place to start than with the development’s aggravating name? The Independent. An adjective made noun with a definite article, it stands alone not just in light of the word’s meaning but in its semantic structure. It embodies a built space at the same time it embodies a lifestyle. Tossing all subtlety out the window, it condescends to you in equating a space with some whitewashed version of bohemianism. It is a name that digs its heels into cultural anxieties over distinguishing oneself from the masses, and slaps you in the face with its promise to make you stick out.

This weekend NDP voters in the Vancouver-Fairview riding rejected Vision councillor Geoff Meggs as their representative in the upcoming provincial elections. The defeat of a sitting councillor represents a significant defeat for Vision Vancouver, but also a strong sign of disapproval for NDP’s leadership and union hierarchy. The party’s base of active membership has voted for George Heyman, striking down the endorsement of Meggs by the NDP-Fairview Executive, which includes CUPE’s Paul Faoro, a key player in labour’s rightward turn at the municipal level since the creation of Vision Vancouver in 2005.

Fairview is the former riding of Mayor Gregor Robertson. Due to this alone the rejection of Meggs signals a serious upset for Vision Vancouver. Fairview is a “battleground riding” in provincial politics, but also a weather-vane for the political climate of the city itself. But why exactly did members turn against Meggs?



* Photo credit: David Vaisbord, The Little Mountain Project *

An updated Little Mountain Policy is coming to Vancouver City Council today, June 27 2012. The most notable issue is that the developer, Holborn, is now openly challenging the cornerstone of the project: that the proceeds of the land sale should fund the 224 ‘replacement’ social housing units onsite.

In 2007, the City and the Province agreed that ‘replacement’ social units — to house the 600 people dislocated by the Little Mountain demolition — would be funded from the sale of the land to a developer. The language in the agreement was unambiguous: “Whether the Site is rezoned or not, BC Housing will replace the existing 224 units of social housing on site … BC Housing will invest all of the net proceeds from the sale of the Site (after the existing social housing is replaced on site) into the development of social housing throughout the province. Half the net proceeds (after the existing social housing is replaced) will be invested in the City of Vancouver.” (For an analysis of the offsite housing, please see the article Myth of the 14 Sites by Nathan Crompton).

After signing this clear agreement, the Province then chose Holborn Properties Ltd. as the project’s developer. These two parties entered into a separate agreement involving sale of the land to Holborn. However, the terms of the agreement, including the dollar value of the land sale, have been kept from the public.


This open letter was originally published in the Georgia Straight. It is a response to a letter originally posted here.

The time has come for Vancouver’s only progressive civic party to stand on its own two feet. The situation is urgent: Vancouver has become the most expensive city on the continent and the second most unaffordable city in the world. Our friends and family are being priced-out, as social housing is privatized and demolished at an unprecedented rate. People are longing for real change and real social justice.

As community organizers, the three of us are determined to turn this situation around and make Vancouver affordable for everyone. To that end, we are running for the executive of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) at this Sunday’s AGM. We believe that renters, who form the majority of residents in this city, need housing stability and firm rent controls. Existing affordable housing stock must be protected through stronger civic bylaws, and new affordable housing created through a robust housing authority. We realize that the only way for this to happen is for COPE to stand strong and independent of the two developer-funded parties — the NPA and Vision Vancouver. A few recent examples will serve to illustrate why.

Just last week, the Vancouver Renters’ Union — an organization to which we belong — successfully worked with 33 brave seniors to fight a 45% rent increase at Lions Manor in Mount Pleasant. The landlord’s rationale for the proposed extraordinary rent increase was that local property values are escalating due to high-end condo developments in this historically working-class neighbourhood. The current developer-backed city council actively facilitates this upscaling, but refuses to use its tools or influence to protect the most vulnerable renters. Unfortunately, Lions Manor is only the tip of the iceberg. Throughout East Vancouver, migrant communities, seniors and those hit hardest by Vancouver’s housing crisis are being displaced. To halt this process, it is essential that COPE withdraw support from developer-funded parties, and present an independent alternative.

Three dozen seniors living on fixed incomes in the Lions Manor building at 6th and Main have been served with a 45% rent increase. In a city with an ever-worsening housing crisis, the tenants could be faced with the possibility of having nowhere to go.

The Mount Pleasant Housing Society (MPHS), a non-profit organization set up by the Mount Pleasant Lions Club, has applied to the Residential Tenancy Branch for permission to exceed the annual rent-increase limit by more than ten times, arguing that rents at Lions Manor are below market value. In reality, the 36 residents of Lions Manor already pay between 35-45% of their income on rent, which is higher than the one-third cut-off rate defined by the City of Vancouver as affordable.*

The rent-increase hearing is scheduled for today (February 10) at the Residential Tenancy Branch. The hearing will take place by phone, adding even more anonymity to the fact that the building owners have not yet met face-to-face with the seniors to discuss the increase. Despite pressure to revoke their application, including a rally outside the Lions Manor yesterday, the Mount Pleasant Housing Society has confirmed that it will pursue the rent increase as planned.

In an extensive conversation with The Mainlander, Mount Pleasant Housing Society president Christine Norman confirmed that if the hearing comes down in favor of the tenants, her organization will appeal the decision. “We will do whatever we have to do to win the case,” said Norman by phone.

Rents have already increased within the allowable legal limit for at least the past two consecutive years at the Lions Manor. This year, however, the owners are seeking a special exemption from the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) beyond its allowable yearly limit of inflation-plus-two-percent. Under Section 23(1)(a), the geographic area loophole of the RTA, the Mount Pleasant Housing Society is applying for an additional 45% rent increase. The section reads:

A landlord may apply under section 43 (3) of the Act [additional rent increase] if one or more of the following apply: (a) after the rent increase allowed under section 22 [annual rent increase], the rent for the rental unit is significantly lower than the rent payable for other rental units that are similar to, and in the same geographic area as, the rental unit.

This loophole puts all renters in gentrifying areas at risk. The neighborhood surrounding Lions Manor is part of what the Vancouver planning department calls the Main Street revitalization corridor, stretching from Alexander Street south to 36th Avenue. The advancement of the condo frontier up Main Street has widened the rent gap between the ground rent and highest-best use capitalized rent, increasing the return on capital in the area. As such, market rents bear no reflection of the actual costs of tenancy but rather of the opportunity cost of capital. The Residential Tenancy Act exists to protect renters from the most exploitative aspects of the housing market, but Section 23(1)(a) cancels out the very purpose of the Act.

MPHS states that it needs a 45% revenue increase to funds its renovations, although Norman would not speak further for fear of “jeopardizing” her case before the Residential Tenancy hearing. According to Norman, the building should have been repaired 10 years ago. Balconies were left to decay by the Lion’s Club and only repaired when they became a safety hazard.



Main Street has become a frontier for high-end real-estate development.

Whether at Little Mountain, 33rd Avenue, King Edward, 16th Avenue, Broadway, South East False Creek or the Downtown Eastside, the entire Main Street corridor has been re-imagined as the new horizon for redevelopment and increased rent extraction. Right in the center of Vancouver’s working class heart, a precedent setting new luxury condo is in its rezoning application phase, and has incited a battle between a large majority of concerned residents and an individual but well-heeled real-estate developer.

This past Tuesday Jan 16 2012, the City of Vancouver and the Rize Alliance presented an updated plan for the controversial redevelopment of Broadway and Kingsway. There are few changes to the plan since March of last year when at a consultation 90% of the community spoke out against it. The fact that now, post-election, the planning department is asserting its position against the wishes of the community and in favour of the developer is a sign that the political battle, the Public Hearing at City Hall, is just around the corner.

Rize Alliance

Rize’s current proposal consists of a nineteen storey tower with 241 units of market condos, one 85,000 sq. ft. retail space, and an underground parking garage of 320 spaces. On Tuesday, two major changes were announced: scrapping a proposed 9,200 sq. ft. artist-studio space, for a cash contribution to fund an off-site cultural or civic facility, and the removal of 15 market rental STIR units — the same program that the Vision Vancouver has consistently defended as a successful policy to build affordable housing. During the election campaign, Vision differentiated itself from the NPA by pointing to the STIR policy, and even called on voters to vote for Vision in order to defend STIR.

If the other project developed by Rize in Mount Pleasant and the current marketing material is any indication, the new condos will not be affordable to long-time residents living in the neighbourhood. New units in Rize’s OnQue, on the corner of Broadway and Quebec start at $349,000 for a 640 sq. ft. one bedroom. According to the most recent census figures, the average income in Mt. Pleasant is approximately $10,000 below the city’s average, or $37,000 a year.

On top of that, the 85,000 sq. ft. retail space is set to be filled with a new big box store that will place even more pressure on already struggling small businesses in the neighborhood and residents who cannot afford to pay for over-priced fruits and vegetables. Already businesses along Main are feeling pressure. Some are organizing fundraisers, some are moving east, and others are having their keys taken by the bailiff.

This Rize project and pressures faced on Mount Pleasant is a textbook example of gentrification, the result of which is and will be the continued displacement of the largely low-income community who call the neighborhood their home. This is part of the reason why the redevelopment of this particular site is drawing attention from both the neighbourhood itself and from the development community. If this project does go through despite significant opposition, it will set a major precedent for other large-scale projects throughout East Vancouver.