Stop the Condos Slated for 58 West Hastings

Letter sent to the Development Permit Board by CCAP
To: Alison Higginson, Project Facilitator
Development Services
May 9, 2008
Stop the condo project slated for 58 W. Hastings

We have a number of points to make:

The Downtown Eastside, where this development is happening, is a real community of mostly low income people. We are not simply bedbugs, slumlords and drug dealers. People in the DE care for each other, volunteer in their community to help others, participate in the various associations like the Women’s Centre, VANDU, Carnegie, WISH, DERA, Aboriginal Front Door. We are intelligent and creative. We are connected with the people and places in the area and feel comfortable here. People in the DE need and appreciate the services that are here for low income people. When CCAP asked Downtown Eastsiders, in our visioning questionnaire, if they would like to continue to live here if they had safe, secure housing, at least 90% say yes. The Downtown Eastside Housing Plan of 2005 recognized that our neighbourhood is a low income community. It called for revitalization without displacement.

To say that we are extremely angry at the process for this development would be the understatement of the year. CCAP gets automatic notifications for all DPAs in the area and we were expecting one for this development. When we saw the sign on the site we took the bus to the planning department on April 7th and asked for a copy of the notification. Several staff including the Director of Planning said they didn’t have it and we asked them to send us a copy when it was ready. We assumed nothing had been approved and it turned out that that very day was the last day for the community to have input, and no one told us. It wasn’t until we checked the city’s website on April 16th and talked to Berg Blancion that we realized, to our horror, that this was a done deal.

We have a low income housing crisis in the Downtown Eastside and the city. According to the Housing Centre, between 2005 and 2010, 1597 market housing units will be developed in the DTES, only 111 of them rental. Meanwhile only 557 new social housing units will be built. Condos are overwhelming our predominantly low income community that your own DTES Housing Plan, unanimously adopted by council in 2005, sets out. The Housing Plan clearly states: (p. 6): “The pace of development of new market and low income housing should be similar.” Note, it does not say the pace of new market and low income housing should be about 3 condos to 1 social housing unit.

The Plan also says: (p. 18): “The development of new market housing and low income housing must proceed together for the Downtown Eastside to remain sustainable. If, for example, market housing development surges ahead, the ability to replace SROs on a 1 for 1 basis with better quality low income housing may be compromised as sites are developed and land prices increase.”… “The rate of change needs to be closely monitored to ensure that the goals of the Housing Plan are met.” If the Planning Department is monitoring the rate of change, it isn’t doing anything about it.

The notification letter that we finally got from Troy Tenney on April 16th says clearly that the Director of Planning has to consider city bylaws and “council-adopted policies and guidelines.” That’s what the Housing Plan is And this development does not consider how condos are “surging ahead” using up land that could be used for social housing, and fostering speculation in the price of land. It’s not just the Housing Plan that says land price increases will come from condos. The Director of Planning admitted as much at CCAP’s Town Hall meeting on March 20th when he said, “You potentially increase the assumed value of land (with condo towers).”

CCAP just released a study of residential hotels in the DTES. We found that almost half of the existing residential hotels are inaccessible to people on welfare because they are closed, in grave danger of being closed, renting to students only, or have rents that are over $425, $50 above the welfare shelter allowance. We found a vacancy rate of .2% in rooms that people on welfare can afford. Two months ago we had no idea that the Backpackers would close, or the Star Beach Haven, or the Pacific, or that the Colonial was leaving 54 rooms vacant to renovate and increase rents. Two months from now, because of the speculation unleashed by Woodwards and condo developments like this one, we could have more closures, more rent increases, more student only housing and more daily/weekly rentals that are too expensive for local residents. Hotels are the last stop before homelessness. No one is building enough housing to replace what is becoming inaccessible to low income renters. Allowing condo developers to destroy our community by pushing up land prices and pushing out low income residents will be bad for the whole city, to say nothing of the residents. When we ask people where they will go if they lose their housing, they say, “West Van, East Van, Broadway and Main, suicide, jail, Georgia Viaduct,” or “it’s too depressing. I try not to think about it.” The most frequent answer is “the street.”

Here’s another council policy: Cut homelessness in half by the Olympics. City land use policies need to contribute to this goal, not undermine it.

There is one way our community would accept this development: turn it into social housing. Scrap the name, Greenwich, and call it the Mikasko, after the man who burned to death, homeless, trying to keep warm in a doorway. This City has done a lot for Concord Pacific. It should be pay back time.

Otherwise, you need to stop it. And you can stop it. You have the council policies and guidelines that would allow it. We have never been so united in the DTES on the need for decent, affordable housing to preserve our low income community. If you don’t stop it the community will be in an uproar.

Jean Swanson