AFFORDABILITY |

Several BC cities have been ranked “severely unaffordable” in a recent world-wide affordability report. The list included Vancouver, Victoria, Abbotsford and Kelowna.Vancouver ranked 324 out of 325, making it the second most unaffordable city in the world next to Sydney (another “Olympic” town).

The effects of the affordability crisis are hitting working people hard. It has been reported that working-class residents across the Lower Mainland have been struggling to find housing, and that the working-poor are increasingly turning to shelters.

In response to criticism that their policies are exacerbating the housing crisis, the City of Vancouver and the Province have repeatedly boasted about their mythical fourteen sites. Now, in another questionable arrangement with real-estate developers, the City is planning to abandon the requirement of affordable housing on North False Creek in exchange for two properties in the Downtown Eastside. But Councilor Geoff Meggs told CBC on Monday that the City might build condos for young professionals on one of these DTES sites (58 West Hastings – site of the 2010 Olympic Tent Village). Meanwhile, North False Creek would have 4 new unaffordable condo towers as part of a new casino complex (more below).

As previously reported, a coalition (10SITES Coalition) has been formed of Downtown Eastside organizations and allies to pressure the City to buy at least 10 sites per year for 5 years in their neighbourhood. Since it is now out in the open that BC cities are “severely affordable” – not merely Vancouver – housing activism will have a reason to grow across the province, and the 10SITES Coalition may prove to be a model.

CASINO |

A new casino proposal passed the first stage of approval at Vancouver City Council last week. The proposed development would also include four associated condominium towers, bringing a small-scale Las Vegas to downtown Vancouver.

Council is giving lip-service to the arguments against the Casino, but has so far approved the project. Some critics are proposing the Vision-led council is simply playing politics and that the proposal will likely go ahead.

The casino will be another way for the City to gain revenue from working-class residents instead of taxing businesses. Vancouver’s business taxes are extremely low. A study done May of last year rated Vancouver’s taxes not only as the lowest in Canada, but the lowest in the world (study here). Resistance to business taxes has caused somewhat of a revenue crisis. The recently-passed 2011 budget increased taxes by two percent, with almost all of the increases placed on residents instead of businesses.

Casinos have an interesting history in Vancouver, and are often associated with crime, corruption and money laundering. It is also important to note that the Great Canadian Casino made a significant donation to Vision Vancouver’s 2008 election campaign.

A public hearing on the casino will be held at City Hall on Feb 17.

Instead of hearing 80 speakers from the public, City Council voted today to defer hearings until a later consulation. Fifty of those speakers were at council to speak against a motion to build condos in the downtown eastside under the Height Review plan (see yesterday’s Editorial).

According to the Mayor’s website, council decided not to hear from the public and voted instead to create a “community committee, chaired by one member of the Building Communities Society and one member of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council. The committee [will] engage with local residents and provide a report to council by December 31, 2011 on community priorities for planning and development in the neighbourhood. As well, the City would commit to completing the social impacts study by December 31, 2011.”

According to the Straight, “the motion called for the report, which proposes building height changes to some sites in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside, to be referred to public hearing and for city staff to conduct a social impact study on low-income residents of the Downtown Eastside.” However, it is not clear if this is actually true, because according the mayor’s website, “Mayor Robertson is recommending that until the social impacts study and the community committee’s report are complete, that council respect existing plans and policies for the Downtown Eastside.”

This means that instead of delaying all plans until public consultation is completed in December 2011, the City is trying to defer public input while rushing ahead with existing plans under the Height Review. According to a Carnegie Community Action Project press release, “five of the condo sites in Chinatown may be going to public hearing in February and could still go ahead.” City policy recognizes that Chinatown is inside the downtown eastside, but now they are treating Chinatown as a separate entity in order to avoid criticism and input. According to Harold Lavender of CCAP, “I live in Chinatown and they just broke the DTES into artificial pieces based on the priorities of developers. If I had a say, I could have influenced their decision. This process is a travesty.” If the City is actually serious about hearing from the downtown eastside, they will stop condo plans for Chinatown until at least December 31, 2011.


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Mayor Robertson and his party won power on the backs of the poor, claiming to represent their aspirations and promising to “End Homelessness.” Today, Vision Vancouver is waging war on the Downtown Eastside, the last refuge for Vancouver’s low-income residents.

One might wonder at the use of a military analogy – “waging war” – but sadly Robertson’s party has employed ruthless political tactics to outmaneuver Vancouver’s most marginalized residents who, despite negligible resources, are nonetheless fighting back stronger than ever.

As we have reported previously, Vision Vancouver is moving to implement the NPA’s gentrification plan for the Downtown Eastside (deceptively called the “Historic Area Height Review”). The plan, which goes to Council for a vote this Thurs, Jan 20, calls for seven 15-storey condo towers in the Downtown Eastside. It is certain that these developments would impact surrounding property values. Low-income residents, as well as the stores, services, and amenities they use, would be displaced at a pace even greater than what is already underway, with the social and economic goal of gentrifying a low-income community by importing a new class of residents (which City Planning staff like to call “body heat“).

The Decoy

To distract the broader public from their undemocratic plan to gentrify the Downtown Eastside, the Vision-led City Council will be voting on a separate “view-corridors” proposal for towers in the central business district at the same Jan 20th meeting as the DTES plan. The City has purposefully attempted to link these very different plans in the public’s mind, with some success. The supposed link between them is the abstract notion of “height.” The two plans both deal with building heights, but will inevitably have more significant impacts on density and social demographics. Focusing on height instead of density changes the debate. This article from Sunday’s Province, for example, is stuck in the City’s frame about “height,” ignoring any question of social impact, and referring only fleetingly to the Downtown Eastside at the end of the article.

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.

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In a letter written to City Council in advance of this Thursday’s vote on approving new condo developments in the Downtown Eastside, former Vancouver Mayor and BC Premier Mike Harcourt has written a letter to the current Mayor and City Council criticizing their approach to community development in the area.

Harcourt emphasizes that the City’s proposed rezoning package would not only increase building height, but would of course add density to the area – a new cohort of residents would be brought into the neighbourhood. Rents could go up, and the things that current residents need and enjoy could be priced-out.

Harcourt writes:

It is well known that this is a uniquely sensitive area of the city. Shifts in its populations brought on by inadequately considered rezoning could be extremely harmful to the affected communities. Unforeseen displacements, deficiencies in services and amenities, and disruption of community assets may well result.

Harcourt suggests that the City should do an analysis of the impact of such demographic shifts before making decisions about particular rezonings. More importantly, community development should take a holistic approach that recognizes and addresses social issues: “We question why there is priority for this ‘height-only’ study when there is a serious lack of overall social, economic and environmental planning for the DTES?” asks Harcourt.

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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.”



At a forum held last night at the VPL, residents questioned the way the City of Vancouver conducts public consultations. The event’s organizers, a group called cityhallwatch, admitted that the forum had been, out of necessity, organized on short notice.

Nevertheless, the forum was well attended, including a member from each of the city’s three sitting municipal parties, real-estate developers, city planners, and grassroots community organizers. There was urgency in the air, as the policies under discussion go to City Council next week.

Randy Helten, cityhallwatch founder, argued that lack of notification and community involvement are only part of a systemic problem in municipal politics in Vancouver. Staff reports and public hearing agendas are often released with very short notice to the public.

Jean Swanson, of the Carnegie Community Action Project, explained how building 7 condo towers in the Downtown Eastside, as proposed, would displace the community’s current residents and community assets by pricing them out and attracting a new class of condo buyers and boutique stores catering to them.

After the evening’s planned presentations, the audience was invited to speak on any particular issues they had. There was significant criticism of Vision Vancouver’s planning policies, and their general attitude towards the community.

The only Vision councillor in attendance, Geoff Meggs, stood up to represent Vision and defend his party, arguing that consultations had been made and that views of the mountains would be saved. Many attendees emphasized that even they (who tended to be relatively engaged in municipal politics) hadn’t been included in consultations, nevermind notified of them.

Concerns were also raised about who exactly would benefit from rezoning for towers. Helten emphasized the increasingly influential role of developers in city planning, and brought up the recent radio interview where former Director of City Planning Ray Spaxman (former consultant on the Historic Area Height Review, who recently spoke with The Mainlander) warned of their influence.