City Hall approves another 10-storey condo tower in the DTES

Bad news. The city has given a permit to another 10-storey condo tower in the Downtown Eastside, at 189 Keefer on the north west corner of Keefer and Main. The project has zero social housing and threatens to step up the displacement of low-income people from the Chinatown area of the neighbourhood. You can read a full report on the hearing here.

Also read the statements given at the hearing from the DTES Neighbourhood Council, the DTES Not for Developers Coalition, and from CCAP, below. The only media coverage was by the Mainlander, which you can read here.

Stop condos at 189 Keefer because city policy says so
Carnegie Community Action Project statement against 189 Keefer St development permit application

The Carnegie Community Action Project is opposed to the 189 Keefer development application because it does not consider city policies that are meant to safeguard the DTES low-income community from gentrification.

What about low-income residents?

The city commissioned a US company to conduct a survey to further the Chinatown Plan that the Chinatown Height review was ostensibly an advance component of. This survey does analyze the relationship between the revitalization of storefronts and low-income residents in the upper floors of buildings in SRO rooms: “The rents that can be charged for the ground floor retail spaces and the market orientation of the retail tenants will be influenced by the residents living upstairs.” (AECOM Project Report, “Vancouver Chinatown Economic Revitalization Action Plan.” November 2011, Page 9.) It also lists, under the category of “threats” to revitalization, “The presence of population attracted to the social service facilities on Hastings Street, one block to the north of Chinatown, discourages visitation, particularly after dark.” (Page 45) And finally, the report argues that it is important to renovate heritage and SRO buildings despite restrictive city guidelines that will not allow for the demolition of SRO rooms because, “The additional pedestrian activity, particularly in the evening hours, will dilute the influence of the underprivileged population.” (Page 53) This report clearly sees the displacement of the low-income community as a precondition to and also a positive consequence of the economic revitalization of Chinatown.

Fortunately this report is not official City of Vancouver policy. It is not Development Permit Board responsibility to implement this revitalization report. It is, however, the Board’s responsibility to follow city policy.

What does City policy say about low-income residents?

The Historic Area Heights Review implementation strategy directs the board to consider whether “developments that may result from HAHR will adhere to applicable Council-approved plans, policies, and guidelines, including the DTES Housing Plan.” (Page 15)

The DTES Housing Plan, as CCAP has explained in the past, includes many considerations for the wellbeing of the low-income community and especially emphasizes stopping displacement as a key concern. It is the housing plan that coined the phrase “revitalization without displacement” as a cornerstone of City of Vancouver development policy.

Market SRO hotel units in the immediate vicinity of the 189 Keefer project could be immediately affected by increased real estate prices and an improved investment and speculation market in the area. Hotels we believe are at risk from the ripple effects of gentrification from any condo project at 189 Keefer include 30 rooms at the Pacific Hotel two doors to the north; 34 rooms at the Arno hotel on Georgia and Gore; 14 at 221 E. Georgia; and 45 units at the Keefer Rooms. These units are vulnerable to the most common form of gentrification; through the holes in the SRA bylaw they can be converted to student and young worker housing.

Even more readily at risk are the approximately 30 rooms in the East Hotel and at least 45 in the Fan Tower. These low-income family residential apartments are not protected from conversion or demolition by the SRA bylaw or even rental-apartment conversion bylaws.

There are no city laws or policies to guarantee that this ‘revitalization’ will not displace the more than 200 low-income people who live in immediate vicinity of this proposed condo project in vulnerable market housing.

And the same housing plan argues that condos should be developed in the Downtown Eastside (including Chinatown) at the same pace as social housing and if they begin to exceed social housing starts then the city should introduce mechanisms to slow this “rate of change.”

City council’s stated objectives include ending homelessness, including replacing all 5,000 units of SRO hotel rooms. To meet this objective the city should slow market development and allow the relatively slow construction of social housing to catch up. Since the 2005 Housing Plan was written, this policy has failed. Rather than proceed apace, between 2005 and 2011 the rate of market to non-market housing development has been 3 to 1. We anticipate that, unless things change, the rate of change will rise in the next few years to a shocking 25 condos to every single social housing start.

Page 16 of the HAHR strategy calls for a Social Impact Study to measure the effects of development on the low-income community but this strategy has still not been started. The risk clearly violates city policy.

CCAP wants the Development Permit Board to send back the 189 Keefer condo proposal because it continues “revitalization” that does not include the “without displacement” parts of city policies and to not consider any new condo project in the Downtown Eastside until the objective has been met of replacing all 5,000 units of SRO hotel rooms with self-contained welfare and old age pension rate social housing units.