More condos for the Downtown Eastside. That’s what City Council decided after hearing speakers until late at night on Jan 22. “I’m predicting that more people will be pushed out of hotels and become homeless, and that some of the good qualities of our low income community are now even more at risk,” said Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP).
The Council decision came after many Downtown Eastsiders and supporters called on them to have an impact study and plan for the neighbourhood before allowing more high buildings. Council did actually agree to an impact study but not before the extra building height is allowed. Council also moved a step closer to funding a local area planning process in the neighbourhood but there is no certainty whether or not such a process will work in the favour of the low-income community. Council made its decisions about extra height after hearing a report from their staff on the Historic Area Height Review. This area includes Gastown, Victory Square, Chinatown and the Main and Hastings area. The report called for 3 towers of about 15 stories on specific sites. It also wanted Council to allow developers about two extra floors of height in the Main and Hastings and Chinatown South areas.
CCAP opposed the increased height because it will bring more condos to the neighbourhood, creating ripple effects of higher property values, higher rents, stores that serve richer residents, displacement of low income people and a loss of the low income community’s assets. CCAP has been researching the good things about the DTES community and found that people like the sense of community, empathy for suffering, caring, lack of judgment, services for low income people, and social housing.
Our Member of Parliament, Libby Davies, sent a letter to Council supporting CCAP’s position. DTES resident Lane Walker told Council that “Displacement is a reality. It’s not just developers and views but actual homes that people are losing.”
Harsha Walia of the Power of Women also supported CCAP’s position, saying many housing units had been lost to rent increases and tourist conversions.
Donald MacDonald, a DTES resident, told Council that he was making plans to deal with homelessness because the building he lived in was up for sale. “My real concern is homelessness,” he said. “The poor didn’t create the housing shortage.”
Hugh Lampkin, Vice President of VANDU, told council that he had “never been to a place that had the level of empathy” of the DTES. Hugh talked about the place where he lives where rents have risen to $500 a month, $550 with a washroom, and an extra $15 for cable. He said he was opposed to increased heights “until we deal with the housing” for low income people.
Matthew Matthew, president of the Carnegie Centre Community Association told Council that the new height wouldn’t help the low income community that lives in the DTES now. He was also concerned because there was no plan.
Council actually decided to allow up to 5 additional towers of around 15 stories than their staff recommended. Two of the original 3 towers proposed by staff were also approved.
“We’re not giving up,” said Pedersen. “We need to keep pressing our governments to build more affordable housing in the DTES. Our low income community has a right to exist and work for improvements without being pushed out.”