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…
There is a new massive condominium development planned for the South-East corner of Broadway at Kingsway. The building that is set to fill the corner is a 26 story mixed-use development that some have said will “remake the neighbourhood.” It will be designed by Acton-Ostry, who designed the smaller scale Stella up the street on 12th. Units in that development started at around $380,000. According to most recent census data, the median house-hold income is about $10,000 less that the city’s average. It is likely that it will not be current residents of Mount Pleasant who will fill the condos. While there have been quite a few developments in Mount Pleasant over the past few years, all have been on a much smaller scale. In fact, June of this year saw three nights of council meetings discussing a project about half the size on Broadway and Fraser. Residents said they didn’t like the scale and volume of that project, which was only 11 stories.
In an attempt to win over the Mount Pleasant community, Rize Alliance Properties has set up a small park and Christmas tree on the south-west corner of Broadway and Kingsway. Early on Friday night there was a tree lighting ceremony, which featured local children singing Christmas carols and members of the Mount Pleasant Community Police handing out hot-chocolate. The president of the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association was out talking to members about the future project, even describing it as a reassuring “mid-rise” tower.
The lot where the park sits was cleared by a fire on Christmas Day of last year. Many low-income artists lost their studio space and there was a very sympathetic reaction in the community.
The development that is set to fill the corner is a 26 story mixed-use development that some have said will “remake the neighbourhood” . It will be designed by Acton-Ostry, who designed the smaller scale Stella up the street. Units in that development started at around $380,000. According to most recent census data, the median house-hold income is about $10,000 less that the city’s average. It is likely that it will not be current residents of Mount Pleasant who will fill the condos.
This winter, Vancouver has already been hit by record snowfalls and low temperatures. Despite weather forecasters of a coldsnap beginning Nov 18 2010, the City did not have any preparations made for those in need of shelter. On Nov 19th, the City issued a press release entitled, “City prepares for cold, snowy winter ahead,” which made no mention of any preparations for shelters, as noted by one blogger.
The truth is that there was a severe shortage of shelters because the City and the Province had shut down more than half of Vancouver’s low-barrier shelters in April 2010, with no plans for new ones. As a result, by Nov 21st 2010, existing shelters were overflowing, and the situation deteriorated as temperatures dropped below -5 degrees Celsius in the following days.
Instead of pointing out the recent history of shelter closures, the media uncritically reported on stories of City councilors and shelter providers congratulating themselves for being more prepared than ever. The daily 24hours reported: “Seeing every community organization at the ready and having room to spare is great news for those who remember how scattered the response was a few years ago.”
But behind the scenes, the City and Province scrambled to come up with a plan. On Nov 23rd, the coldest night of the year, they announced funding for four shelters to be opened at later dates at locations to-be-determined – half of those shelters still have not opened. Rather than acknowledging the mistake of having closed down needed shelters in the spring with no plan for the winter, government officials turned the situation completely upside down, congratulating themselves for adding so-called “new” shelters.