BC Housing subsidizes Pantages Condo project

Should BC Housing subsidize a Downtown Eastside (DTES) condo developer when our neighbourhood has 850 homeless people and 3500 living in crummy hotel rooms that need to be replaced? Is Condo King Bob Rennie, also on the Board of BC Housing, behind a sweet deal that will probably increase property values two blocks away from his own office?

These are two questions that shocked Downtown Eastsiders are asking after learning that BC Housing plans to loan up to $23 million to condo developer Marc Williams. Williams plans to build 79 condo units plus 18 social housing units (only 9 will rent at welfare rates) at the site of the old Pantages Theatre, 138 E. Hastings. He calls the project Sequel 138. According to The Province, the loans will be at 1.29 % interest, much lower than the going rate from a bank.

Over 40 organizations, housing providers, artists, and social workers have joined 2,200 DTES residents in signing a Community Resolution opposing condos at the old Pantages Theatre site. The Resolution states: “We would not want to be complicit in a project that will further displace, impoverish, and police residents of the Downtown Eastside and make people feel more unwelcome in their own neighbourhood.”

The groups want the city to buy the Pantages site and use it for resident controlled social housing that people on welfare can afford.

Building condos in the Downtown Eastside causes gentrification. Condos increase property values. Rents and taxes for hotel rooms and local businesses go up. New businesses serve new, richer residents. Police and security guards harass and ticket low-income people to keep them away from the new upscale businesses, and the streets become zones of exclusion for low income people.

It’s especially important to stop the Sequel project because it is in the Oppenheimer area of the DTES, an area that requires 20% social housing for most new developments. If Sequel can succeed despite this requirement, other developers are likely to proceed with more condos and gentrify the heart of the DTES. The city has also said in its DTES Housing Plan that the Oppenheimer area should have more than its share of new self-contained social housing. This can’t happen if the area is overrun with condos, due to unaffordable property values.

To continue the fight against Sequel, the DTES Not for Developers Coalition is organizing a demonstration on December 11 at 2 pm at the Sequel site (beside the blue fence in the 100 block of East Hastings). Come out and join us!