It’s about a lot more than viaducts.
On July 27, council’s Standing Committee on Transportation and Traffic voted to begin a comprehensive planning process for the future of the False Creek Flats, including exploring the reconfiguration or removal of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts into the East side. The idea of reducing or removing freeways is something lots of folks are talking about, but this plan, called the Eastern Core Strategy Study, is about a lot more than just freeways.
At the heart of the study is the acknowledgment that reducing or completely removing the viaducts will bring fundamental change to this area, one of the last areas in the city with the potential for major redevelopment. The initial phase of the study, as adopted by council, will take what staff calls a “big picture” look at the flats, including “land use and development potential” should the viaducts come down. This area includes not only city-owned lands, but also lands owned by Providence healthcare (the Catholic authority which runs St. Paul’s hospital) and developer giant Concord Pacific.
Although the first phase of the strategy carefully avoids defining what it means by “development” (the staff presentation to Council focused on uses like parks), the elephant in the room is, of course, opening up what’s currently an industrial wasteland bisected by freeways to commercial real estate development. Read: condos.
This week the City released its three-year plan for addressing housing affordability in Vancouver. The plan has been received with wide appeal as an ambitious attempt to solve street homeless in Vancouver by 2015. In fact, the plan calls for drastic reductions in the city’s own housing goals, while introducing major reporting fabrications that give the appearance of a new direction for housing.
The three-year action plan announces 3,650 new units of non-market housing. Immediately, observers will recognize that almost half of these 3,650 new units are not new at all: they are part of the 14 sites, which were promised for completion by 2010 at the latest, not 2014. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for these sites was signed in 2007 and construction was supposed to start in 2008. The units were part of the 3,200 units promised by all three levels of government under the Inner City Inclusivity agreement (ICI) as a condition of hosting the Olympic Games. Zero of these units were built by time of the Olympics.
Once the 14 sites are subtracted from the 3-year total, the City is committed to building only 1,950 new housing units. However, a further significant portion of these 1,950 units are also falsely included. 319 of them are not planned for actual construction, since, as the report says, they “currently have no identified funding source.” In addition to this, 276 further units cannot be genuinely counted since they are drawn from the Little Mountain housing development. Little Mountain does not represent new units for the housing stock, since the 224 units of public housing at Little Mountain, built in 1954, were destroyed and all residents were promised to be re-housed by 2010. Since that illegal demolition, residents have been told that only half of them will be re-housed by 2014 at the earliest.
There is a renewed grassroots effort to stop condo development on the site of the historic Pantages Theatre at 138 East Hastings. Worthington properties currently has plans to build 79 condo units on the site. The project may be approved by the Director of Planning, Brent Toderian later this summer unless there is a public outcry. In order to force a hearing, the public has until August 12 2011 to address concerns to:
Alice Kwan: 604.871.6283, firstname.lastname@example.org and
Scott Barker: 604.873.7166, email@example.com
A coalition of community groups has launched a website called The DTES is not for condo developers, which includes a petition and outlines the coalition’s concerns about condo development in the “heart” of the Downtown Eastside. The 100 block of East Hastings includes many community assets that could be negatively affected by gentrification, including the Carnegie Community Centre, Insite, and 400 low-income housing units.
The coalition is calling on the City to reject the developer’s proposal, and asks “the Pantages owner to sell the property at its 2010 assessed value of $3.7 million to the City of Vancouver.” Worthington Properties bought the Pantages Theatre in 2004 for only $440,000. Worthington also purchased the adjacent lots, spending just over $1M to assemble the block for redevelopment. By 2010, the City assessed the value of the lots at $3.7M. But when Worthington Properties tried to sell the block to the City in the spring of 2010, the corporation asked for a price well above market value, and City Council turned down the offer at an in camera meeting on March 22, 2010.
The developer has made millions simply by speculating on an affordable block. Beyond that, they are now insisting on even more profits instead of working with the City to restore one of Vancouver’s three historic theaters, and to build desperately needed social housing. When the City makes every reasonable attempt to purchase a property to meet the ‘public interest’, but the owner won’t sell at a fair price, the City’s next legal step is expropriation. Under the provincial Expropriation Act, the City has the authority to expropriate properties to meet its policy goals in the public interest.
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.