Earlier this week The Guardian released a Wikileaks cable that discusses logistics and security concerns surrounding the Vancouver Olympics. The cable also contains speculations that the mismanagement of the Olympic Village likely decided the 2008 municipal election that left the city with a Vision majority. Gregor Robertson ran on a platform strongly condemning the NPA decision to reduce the social housing commitment at the Olympic Village. Robertson and Vision Vancouver won the election claiming that they “strongly opposed the previous NPA administration’s cuts of middle and low-income housing from the Southeast False Creek Olympic Village site,” but have since tried to run away from their own promises.
Also appearing in the Wikileaks cable is reiteration of the facts that original security cost estimates of $175 million ballooned to almost $1 billion; that the city paid only $50m for the Olympic Village land (subsequently trying to sell the land to the Millenium corporation for $200m); and that the City of Vancouver currently has a $3 billion fund for property acquisition and social housing, called the Property Endowment Fund (PEF). For years people have been trying to determine the size of the PEF. The original intention of the PEF was, according to May Brown, to benefit the people of Vancouver: “The city was selling land every year, putting money into general revenue to keep taxes down. [Mayor] Art Phillips said this has got to stop. We’re cannibalizing our land . . . The value of the PEF in those days was $100 million. The rationale was simple: citizens should share in the profits from any increase in land value.”
POLICE BRUTALITY |
The BC Civil Liberties Association has stated that the decision not to charge the Vancouver Police Department officer who shot an already neutralized mentally ill man 8 times should be reviewed. This is another case of the archaic policy of police investigating themselves on alleged misconduct.
TENT CITY |
Documents leaked shortly after the Olympics revealed that the provincial government’s main concern prior to the Olympics was the emergence of a Tent City in Vancouver during the Games. There are “Athlete’s Village Tent City 2011” posters covering every corner of the city. Last Sunday, housing activists officially announced the February 2011 tent city by serving a free pancake breakfast in the public plaza of the village, where the tent city is planned to take place.
In related news, the first tenants began moving into affordable housing at the Olympic Village this week. The first building contains 84 units, 75% of which are non-market housing. Among the twenty-one units of affordable housing, none will contribute to ending homelessness because zero will be going to Vancouver residents with “deep core” need, even though 33% of the overall project was originally promised as “deep core” and another 33% as “core need.” The twenty-one units, finally filled years after the city proposed over 600, have recently been deemed tokenism.
SHELTERS INCREASINGLY HOUSE WORKING POOR |
Homelessness is not just a problem in the Downtown Eastside, or even just the municipality of Vancouver. Housing is an issue throughout Greater Vancouver, and things are getting worse according to a recent Georgia Straight article, which reveals that an increasing number of the working poor are relying on shelters, unsettling the common notion that homeless shelters are only used by people on social assistance and unemployed.
Last month City Council adopted the Mount Pleasant Community Plan (MPCP). The MPCP, the culmination of three years of community feedback and consultations, is the first city-sponsored community plan for the area since 1989.
Many residents of Mount Pleasant are concerned about what is happening to their neighbourhood – and with good reason. There have been significant demographic shifts since the last census was performed in 2006. Condos have been popping up along Kingsway, Broadway and Main. Mount Pleasant is a traditionally working-class neighbourhood, the average income in Mount Pleasant being thousand dollars below the citywide average. 23% of people living in the neighborhood are low-income and 67% in the neighborhood are renters.
Mount Pleasant residents have been becoming more active in recent months – many concerned about gentrification and affordability, others concerned about height of new buildings in the abstract.
This summer, these issues came to the surface in a debate about a development at one of the area’s hubs – a social housing and rental development project at Broadway and Fraser. The City Council meeting dealing with the rezoning had to be extended to three days to accommodate the more than 70 speakers. Some members of the community argued that the proposed 11 story development was too tall, where others argued that the neighbourhood is in dire need of more rental and social housing units. In the end, the project was approved with minor adjustments.
The MPCP passes over many of these issues, and attempts to reconcile the wishes of existing residents with developers’ desire for increased density.
We previously reported that on Jan 20 2011, Vancouver City Council will consider a proposal to build seven condo towers in the Downtown Eastside, and that there is significant community opposition to the plan. The City calls the plan the “Historic Area/Precinct Height Review/Study,” while critics call it a “gentrification package” for the Downtown Eastside.
This week, Ray Spaxman spoke out about the plan. On Dec 13, he told The Mainlander that he was more amenable “to getting an area plan going before we do this rezoning.”
Then on Dec 15 Spaxman was interviewed by CKNW’s Phillip Till about the Height Study, where he reiterated the problems of developing a rezoning plan without a community plan: “there seems to be a lack of attention to the impact of that density on all the facilities and services that are needed in the city as a consequence of those extra heights.”
The comments are significant because not only was Spaxman Vancouver’s Director of Planning from 1973 to 1989, but he was also hired by the City in 2007/8 as main researcher and author of the original Sept 2008 Historic Precinct Height Study.
Spaxman told The Mainlander that his contract with the city “was defined to focus on the question of height.” However, he noted his team’s concern that “by talking only about height instead of density and people, the City risks overlooking the social implications of development.”
It is common for Vancouver journalists to bemoan the “fiasco” of the Olympic Village, but they are so often bogged-down in financial matters above their pay-grade that they forget the true fiasco of South East False Creek. Indeed, the Village embodies a profound scandal. At the core of the scandal is that governments broke their social housing promises at the site and then lied about it.
The original plan for the Olympic Village was that 2/3rds of the 1100 units would be affordable, a full half of which would be social housing for those most in need (“deep core”).
The rationale for these promises goes back to the very start of the Olympic bid process. There was much concern that Vancouver’s affordability crisis might grow on account of winning the Olympic bid, pushing the most vulnerable residents into homelessness. In their Inclusivity Statement, the Olympic partners committed to mitigating these impacts, and to providing a positive social housing legacy through projects like the Athletes’ Village at South East False Creek (SEFC). This latter promise was repeated constantly by government officials for years in the lead-up to the Olympics.
A rigorous community planning process between 2003 and 2005 produced the Official Development Plan (ODP) for South East False Creek (SEFC), which was approved by Vancouver City Council on 19 July 2005. The exact wording of the Plan read:
“The goal for household income mix is one-third low income, one-third middle income (or ‘affordable’ housing) and one-third market.”
In addition to rent increases caused by the upscaling and renovation of dozens of low-income buildings around the city, Vancouver is losing affordable housing through the outright demolition of buildings. Last month, City Council approved the demolition of the Cecil Hotel. Two months ago, Vancouver City Council approved the loss of almost all low-income housing at the American Hotel, whose tenants were illegally evicted in 2006. Last year saw a drastic loss of housing, with City Council allowing for the closure of low-income hotels surrounding Woodward’s while granting the demolition permit for the 224 housing units at Little Mountain.
Today, however, the provincial and municipal governments jointly proclaim a “partnership of excellence” in the fight against homelessness. Some journalists have written of the “tight bond” between the Province and City under Mayor Gregor Robertson, and it has recently been reported that many Vision councilors were favorable towards Rich Coleman’s leadership bid for the BC Liberal Party because of “all the progress he has been able to make with the City of Vancouver on social housing during this Vision Vancouver term.”[i]
More than anything else, the proclaimed successes of the “partnership” revolve around the construction of fourteen sites of social housing in Vancouver, known as the ‘Vancouver sites.’ The myth of these fourteen sites can be traced to the destruction of housing at Little Mountain.
Vancouver City Council will hold a special meeting this Tuesday, Dec 12, to look over the proposed municipal budget. An administrative report distributed November 15th outlining the budget can be found here. Last Thursday, December 2nd, a public meeting was held, with 18 of the 20 speakers speaking against the proposed budget.
Over the past few months, the city has been engaging the public through telephone, web and paper surveys (around 1300 were completed). According to the report, the most pressing issues in the city for residents are Homelessness, Affordable housing, and Public Transit. The popular focus on poverty and affordability was one of the reasons Vision Vancouver concentrated so much on homelessness during their campaign. Over the past two years, there has been a significant increase in homelessness and more communities are feeling the pressure of a lack of affordable housing. The most valued city services for residents, according to the survey, were Public Libraries, Fire Services, and Garbage Collection.
Longtime Downtown Eastside advocate Jean Swanson has written a letter to City Council and City staff strongly urging them to “hold off on giving developers added density in the DTES…until the Social Impact Study & the DTES Vision are done, [and until] the tenure and assets of the low-income community are secured.”
The letter, sent Dec 10 2010, comes in response to Vision Vancouver’s apparent commitment to finalize an NPA-initiated rezoning package for the Downtown Eastside. The rezoning package, which the City calls the “Historic Area Height Review,” and which others call the “DTES Gentrification Package,” calls for 7 condo towers at particular locations in the Downtown Eastside, as well as a general rezoning of the area to make it more affordable for developers to tear down buildings and replace them with condo developments.
The final policy document will be coming to City Council for approval on Jan 20 2011.
In anticipation of this rezoning policy, developers are already well underway with plans to build condo towers on the old BC Electric building at Hastings and Carrall, as well as at the corner of Abbott and Pender. The general upzoning has led, for example, the owner of the Pantages theatre to replace plans for a preserved theatre flanked by social housing with new plans for an 80% condo development adjacent the Carnegie Centre…