COLUMN | City Council sets sights on mega-development at 955 East Hastings

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This week, City Councillors will be returning to City Hall from their summer break. One of the first orders of business will be to consider a large-scale condo development in the Downtown Eastside Hastings Corridor, directly across from the Raycam Community Centre and Stamp’s Place social housing.

The applicant for the project – Vision financial backer Wall Financial Group – is planning to build three 12-storey condo buildings on the site at 955 East Hastings Street. If approved, the project will total 352 units of housing. 282 of the units are proposed as market strata units, with the remaining 70 units planned as rental housing run and owned by the City of Vancouver as “social housing.”

As with the Sequel 138 project at Main and Hastings – where the city will be renting its social housing at a rate of $900/month – the majority of the 70 “social housing” units in this new Wall development will be well out of reach for low-income people. City staff are recommending to council that they rent the majority of these “social housing” units at market rates.

The plan is to rent 20 of the units at affordable rates, while letting the 50 remaining units for “market rent” under a rent-geared-to-income strategy.[1] Planning staff have not specified an upper limit on the incomes of those paying rent for the 50 units, other than to say that the market rates should be self-sustaining without any need for subsidy from any level of government.[2]

In a report riddled with inconsistencies and spelling mistakes, the planning staff are claiming that these market-priced social housing units are “in keeping with goals as outlined in the Downtown Eastside Housing Plan.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The City’s DTES Housing Plan is explicit in stating that the Hastings Corridor plan should be amended to include more social housing[3] and that city planners should prioritize the affordable replacement of inadequate SRO housing in the area.[4]

More importantly, the Housing Plan raises significant alarm bells about the impact of gentrification on the existing affordable housing stock in the Hastings Corridor.[5] The Wall project, which calls for more than three-hundred units of market housing in the Hastings Corridor, is radically at odds with the city’s own Housing Plan. This is due to the simple fact that a Wall mega-development will pull the property market ever-upward in an area that is already struggling to make ends meet.

It is now up to Vision Vancouver to do the right thing and reject staff’s reckless proposal to put yet more people’s homes at risk of renoviction and demolition. Given Vision’s track record of affordability, we should not remain hopeful. It is safe to say that the best affordability strategy for this city will be to evict the developer-backed parties as soon as possible.

[1] CD-1 Rezoning: 955 East Hastings Street (Sep 11, 2012) p. 11

[2] “The optimal tenant mix will be determined to ensure the rental income from the units will be adequate to offset operating, financing and capital rehabilitation costs.” CD-1 Rezoning: 955 East Hastings Street, p. 12

[3] “[T]he zoning in the DEOD, Hastings Corridor and Thornton Park should be amended to encourage more social housing.” Downtown Eastside Housing Plan (2005), p. 30

[4] “SRO replacement housing should be made a priority in the Hastings Corridor.”Downtown Eastside Housing Plan (2005), p. 65

[5] “Increasing land prices…would make the development of social housing more difficult to fund and expensive to build.” Downtown Eastside Housing Plan (2005), p. 57