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.


The Mainlander is featured in the civic politics segment every Tuesday morning between 7am-8am on Vancouver Co-op Radio 102.7

This Tuesday Dec 13 2011, The Mainlander’s Tristan Markle spoke about:
a) Holborn Group’s recent plans for the redevelopment of Little Mountain
b) Mayor Robertson’s appointment of multimillionaire developer Olga Ilich as co-chair of the city’s affordable housing task force

Click here to listen



The new plan for the redevelopment of Little Mountain neighbourhood in East Vancouver has been released to the public. The plan calls for wholesale gentrification of the Riley Park-Little Mountain neighborhood. The 15-acre site that previously held 224 units of social housing will be replaced with 2,000 units of market condominiums.

In exchange for a zero-percent increase in the amount of affordable housing on the site, the neighborhood will be transformed by luxury condos and retail, putting upward pressure on local property values. Like in other working-areas of Vancouver, this new high-end development will usher in rent increases, more renovictions and even more demolitions.

In Vancouver, there are on average two home demolitions per day. The Little Mountain plan ensures that the rate of demolitions will be particularly high in the Riley Park area. In addition to the demolition of Little Mountain social housing, the city has its sight set on demolishing all single-family homes at the north-east corner of the Little Mountain property.

Even though evictions and displacement are systemic throughout Vancouver, the city has not conducted a social impact study to understand the possible social effects of these demolitions and mega-projects. When asked at Thursday’s press conference whether the City plans to conduct such a study, Senior Planner Ben Johnson said “No,” claiming that there are no impacts because “homes are going for $1million in the neighborhood.” According to the city, the renters who make up large part of Little Mountain, Riley Park, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, Sunset, and Mount Pleasant are not part of the equation.

The new plan announced by the private developer, Holborn Group, consists of sixteen towers of luxury condominiums. There are nine towers planned at ten to fourteen stories, while the rest of the density is spread out between four to nine stories. It is assumed that Holborn bought the property from the provincial government for a price fixed to existing levels of zoning, at four stories, while committing to replace the 224 units of social housing.

This “one-for-one” deal is a coup for Holborn because on a mega-project of this size, the city would normally apply its mega-project housing policy requiring that 20% of all units be social housing. The planned 2,000 units would normally accompany at least 400 units of social housing, but in this case the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the City and the Province assures Holborn that only 224 units are necessary.  Furthermore, low-income tenants have been forced into the precarious waiting room of history. The first phase of the project will now not be completed until 2017 at the absolute earliest, even though all replacement housing was promised to be completed by 2010 at the latest.

When Holborn bought Little Mountain, the land was zoned for four stories. Holborn claims to have paid an above-market rate because the Province promised that the land would be upzoned in the future to allow more condo units. Of course, rezoning is a City power, outside the Province’s jurisdiction. If the Province indeed made a guarantee to Holborn that the land would be rezoned, then the Province was on the one hand attempting to undermine the local community planning process (including the existing Riley Park Community Vision), and on the other hand seems to have misrepresented the Province’s powers to Holborn. However, there is no reason to feel sorry for Holborn. Holborn has more than enough lawyers to know exactly what they were getting into. The most likely scenario is that the Province and Holborn colluded to strong-arm the City and undercut local planning processes.



Many Vancouverites are wondering what the City is doing to make Vancouver affordable and therefore liveable. Unfortunately, the City’s main affordable housing initiative over the past two years has produced no new affordable housing.

Under the guise of a program supposed to “address the issue of rental and affordable housing supply in Vancouver,” the City has handed tens of millions of dollars over to real-estate developers through tax breaks in order to ‘incentivize’ unaffordable market rental development. It is but one an example of Vision Vancouver’s neoliberal approach to fiscal policy, pushing aside the interests of residents for those of big business.

The policy in question is called the Short Term Incentives for Rental (STIR). It was adopted in June of 2009 with limited public discussion or consultation. Some residents have been fighting it ever since.

In the 2008 election, Vision Vancouver and Gregor Robertson recognized that to win an election in progressive Vancouver, politicians needed to talk the talk of progressive politics. For Vision this meant rallying Vancouver around the bold idea of addressing the housing crisis and Ending Homelessness. Electorally, it meant a compromise with COPE, Vancouver’s traditional progressive party. COPE and Vision would work together under the “big umbrella” of progressive change, with COPE running only two councilors.

Today, after three years of a Vision majority on City Council, the progressive spirit chosen in the 2008 municipal elections is nowhere to be found. The party who promised to end homelessness and address affordability has turned out to be its mirror opposite, giving millions in tax breaks to developers, decreasing the corporate tax rate to the lowest in the world, forcibly closing homeless shelters, cutting services, hiring millions of dollars of additional police officers, and deepening the affordability crisis at every possible turn.

This month, the members of COPE will have to decide whether or not to enter into another electoral deal with Vision. Members will be presented with that choice at a COPE general meeting on June 26, 2011. Here are ten reasons COPE members ought to reject the deal as proposed, and instead support an independent progressive party in the 2011 municipal elections:

1. Affordable Housing….

Cambie Street just got a little ‘denser’, in more ways than one. By approving Phase 2 of the so-called Cambie Corridor Plan, not only did the Vision-led City Council open the door to higher condo developments along the stretch, it also proved its own ‘density’: its incapacity to respond to residents, to stand up to developers, or to adequately address Vancouver’s staggering unaffordability.

The Cambie condo plan calls for upzoning the full length of Cambie St, from City Hall to South Marine Drive. Six-storey condo development would be allowed along almost the entire stretch, punctuated by 12-storey condo towers around Oakridge Mall, and 40-storey ones at Marine Drive. In the midst of our almost pathological affordability crisis, where Vancouver often ranks as the most unaffordable city on the planet, it is crucial take advantage of every opportunity to create affordability. But in the Cambie plan it is anticipated that at least 80% of new units will be unaffordable condos, and the remaining 20% purpose-built rental units will go for an unsubsidized market price.

This upzoning is the second free give-away to Cambie private property owners in recent years. First, construction of the Canada Line pushed up land values, especially around transit stations. Simply, people will pay more to live near them, so developers can profit by building condos for speculators and prospective upper-income buyers. But contrary to the logic of using better transit to increase property values, it is a matter of justice to build purpose-built affordable rental housing around transit hubs. It is lower income residents who can’t afford to drive cars.

With land values rising around Canada Line stations, public intervention into the market would be required to retain or create low- and middle-income spaces (residential, commercial, and public spaces). For example, downzoning could be used to keep land values under control, so that land can first be secured by public agencies for the purposes of public housing. Rent Caps or Rent-Geared-to-Income (RGI) could be enforced. But on the contrary, the Cambie Corridor Plan serves no purpose other than to multiply property values along the stretch yet again.

Both residential and commercial tenants will be duly evicted, while property owners sell-out to larger development companies consolidating land-holdings for condo complexes. The irony should not be lost that Gregor Robertson’s main accomplishment as an MLA was advocating for small commercial tenants on Cambie Street whose businesses were disrupted by construction of the Canada Line. They will now be dislocated wholesale by property owners without a semblance of consultation or compensation.

Over the past two years, Vancouver City Council and its Planning Department have been increasing height allowances throughout the City. Almost every neighbourhood faces or has faced either a wide sweeping height plan or a precedent setting rezoning application: the DTES, the West End, Mt. Pleasant, Norquay, the CBD, and now Cambie St. This surge in upzonings is a key causal factor of Vancouver’s plummeting affordability.

In their current form, increases in height allowances essentially constitute deregulation of the real-estate market. By removing limits placed by either community-led groups or the planning department, developers can build whatever they think will be most profitable on a piece of land. In Vancouver, this means maximizing views, which means maximizing height. It also means luxury condos. If this process continues, the City’s affordability will continue to worsen.

Increasing height and density allowances on a piece of land drastically increases its value. Whether through a neighbourhood-wide ‘blanket rezoning’, or through a single plot ‘spot rezoning’, increases in density equate to windfall profits for real-estate developers. Even without any new construction, upzoning a parcel of land plays a huge role in how it is valued. This is why developers buy up properties and then “donate” to political parties like Vision Vancouver, with the expectation that their properties will be upzoned. This can lead to spiraling speculation throughout an area. There is a lot of money to be made from these rezonings.