A plan to redevelop the Oakridge Mall at Cambie and 41st, unveiled this past week, includes 2,800 condo units in 16 buildings, 6 of which are above 30 storeys. The current developer-friendly City Council is sure to approve the proposal with only minor adjustments. One city councilor anticipated some community concerns about height and density, but my concern goes deeper. I’m not against height or density in the service of affordability, but in this case, height and density primarily serve corporate interests and reflect poor transit planning choices.

Looking at the redevelopment plan, it’s clear to me that the fundamental principle at work is maximization of corporate profits. The developer is asking to triple the amount of housing allowed on the site, which could triple the land value in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars. How much of that value the city recoups to fund affordable housing, and how much the developers keep as profits, depends on the political will of City Council. As it stands, however, only 50 of the 2,800 housing units proposed for Oakridge are planned to have below-market rents – that’s less than 2%.

There is unlikely to be much pushback from City Council. The Oakridge landowner is the Ivanhoe Cambridge Corporation, which cleverly hired the developer, Westbank, and architects, Henriquez Partners, to bring City Council on board with the plan. These firms are very close to the ruling party Vision Vancouver – having also collaborated on the Woodward’s redevelopment in the Downtown Eastside. It does not hurt that Westbank donated $12,000 to Vision’s electoral campaign last fall, and an equal amount in previous campaigns.

The Streetohome Foundation has officially launched its new Rent Bank program with a $366,000 three-year loan from Streetohome board member Frank Giustra of the Radcliffe Foundation. Smaller administrative costs totalling $49,000 per year will be paid by the City, although the program itself will be administered by the non-profit Inner-City Community Services Society.

One-time loans from the rent bank will average $835 and can reach up to a maximum of $1300 for an individual, with a repayment plan spanning up to two years. To qualify, tenants perform an assessment either online or over the phone. Tenants are issued a loan if the rent bank judges that they can afford the repayment plan, and if the tenant agrees in advance to repay the loan through automatic withdrawals on their bank account.

Both the rent bank policy and the Streetohome organization were born under previous NPA and COPE municipal governments. The City’s 2005 Homeless Action Plan, drafted under COPE’s last term in office (2002 – 2005), called for the rent bank to disburse both loans and grants to low-income renters in short-term crisis. The current version is less ambitious and removes the grant option, following instead the path set out under NPA’s pro-business term (2005 – 2008). The NPA formed Streetohome in an effort to incentivize the real-estate sector to solve homelessness through philanthropy and charity.

Former city councilor Ellen Woodsworth speaks about her experience not only as a personal loss, but also as another casualty in Vancouver’s diminishing affordable housing stock

When former Vancouver city councilor Ellen Woodsworth saw the For Sale sign go up in front of the row house that she and her partner had occupied for over 30 years, she saw an opportunity. It was August 2011, only shortly before the municipal election, and Woodsworth thought that she might get some friends together in order to buy and maintain the six units of what she describes as “really good affordable housing.” The house had been built in 1918 and Woodsworth wanted to fix it up. “Not much work has been done on it, it’s pretty run down.”

However, by October, the owner of the row houses was seriously negotiating with another buyer, and the sale was completed in December. Due to the time constraints and the pressures of campaigning, Woodsworth was unable to enact her plan.

Shortly after the sale in December, the new owners began fixing up some of the other units, and Woodsworth began asking what their plans were, as she was concerned about the future of her home.

Finally on June 19th , two days before she and her partner had planned to leave on vacation, Woodsworth got an answer. “They put an eviction notice through our mailbox, which is actually not the legal way to do it… legally you have to give it to people in person.”

The world has lost a key thinker and an inspirational person. The geographer Neil Smith passed away in New York early in the morning of September 29th, 2012. Neil’s work on uneven development, the production of nature, gentrification, and neoliberalism provide a crucial map for academics, activists and anyone interested in social justice and the city. Neil was a prolific writer and editor.  His engaging writing is marked by its analysis, its humour, and its conviction. His Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space (1984/2010), New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City (1996), and The Endgame of Globalization (2005) are all books that have pushed critical thinking forward while being useful books that would have a place on anyone’s bookshelf.

Neil lived and worked in New York and Toronto, but he also has a strong Vancouver connection: in the photograph above, Neil is giving a community talk that was organized by the Downtown Neighbourhood Council, VIVO, and Urban Subjects at the Japanese Language School in Vancouver in the spring of 2011. Neil’s intellectual and community generosity were boundless — on that visit to Vancouver he talked on three venues, culminating in a packed talk at VIVO where he elaborated his new work on the revolutionary imperative. His ongoing engagement with Vancouver included an essay in Stan Douglas: Every Building on 100 West Hastings (2003) and A Manifesto for the Poetry of the Future (2011).