City ignoring displacement of low-income residents in Chinatown

City ignoring displacement of low-income residents in Chinatown

By Jean Swanson

Chinatown is on the verge of getting more condos than Woodward’s while the city does nothing to stop displacement of low-income residents.  On February 21 a rezoning proposal for 145 market condos in a 17-storey tower at 611 Main is going to Council.  On Feb. 27 another rezoning proposal for another tower with 188 market condos is going to another public hearing. 189_611_633main gentrification forces in Chinatown

These two developments, plus others proposed for Chinatown recently will bring the total of new condos to 561… 25 more than Woodward’s. But Woodward’s, at least, had 125 units of welfare rate housing.  The Chinatown developments altogether have a grand total of 11 welfare rate units.  What’s worse, because condos increase land values, rents in 388 privately-owned SRO hotel units within blocks of the proposed towers could go up, pushing out low income residents. The units at risk are in the Arno, 221 E. Georgia, Keefer Rooms, East Hotel, Fan Tower, Pacific Rooms, Asia Hotel, May Wah Hotel, and New Sun Ah Hotel.  These buildings are some of the only ones left that provide housing at welfare rates.

611-main-modelAccording to a recent analysis by the Carnegie Community Action Project, 404 rooms in hotels near Woodward’s are now either closed or renting for $500 or more, at least $125 above the welfare shelter rate.  So, while Woodward’s did provide 125 units of good housing for low-income singles, the overall of the development was the loss of 279 units of low-income affordable housing to gentrification through higher rents and speculation.  “These 388 units of housing in Chinatown are at risk from the same forces that increased rents in hotel rooms near Woodward’s,” explained CCAP’s Ivan Drury.

Even though the city claims its policy is “revitalization without displacement” there is nothing in Chinatown to protect low-income residents from displacement and no indication that city hall even cares about this.  The Local Area Planning Process is supposed to make recommendations to City Council on November 20th.  But Council has already sent a strong message that it wants condos in Chinatown regardless of the impact on low-income residents.  By November 20th, even more condos could be planned.  If rezonings are not required there is nothing to stop them in Chinatown.

The City’s own DTES Housing Plan says that market housing and social housing should 633 main“proceed apace” in the DTES.  In other words, for every condo unit we should have a social housing unit.  The Housing Plan says if this doesn’t happen the city should bring in “rate of change mechanisms” (like zoning laws that make building applications more difficult) to even out development.  But in Chinatown there is no rate of change mechanism at all, and market housing seems to be proceeding at a rate of 51 condos to every one unit of welfare rate social housing.

Housing for low-income people isn’t the only problem either.  With new condos come new storefronts with hefty rents.  They attract businesses that serve the new condo residents, not current low-income residents.  We’ve already seen this happening with hair cutting places that charge $50 for a haircut instead of $8; and expensive restaurants, and with the London Pub. Will Chinatown businesses that serve low-income residents be able to survive?  Probably not with higher property values, taxes and rents.

Could City Council stop the rezoning?  Yes.  It could show some compassion for low-income residents, some respect for its slogan of “revitalization without displacement” and its own DTES Housing Plan.

Will it stop the rezoning?  Like a previous Council who presided over the obliteration of the Black community at Hogan’s Alley in Chinatown, I suspect this council will betray the DTES low-income community and its promise of no-displacement, and go full steam ahead with more gentrification.

If you’d like to go to City Council to speak about the rezoning of 611 Main St., call 604-829-4238 to get on the speaker’s list.  If you’d like help figuring out how to make a speech at the public hearing, call Jean at 605-729-2380.

The Carnegie Community Action Project has fought hard to save low-income housing in Chinatown but Council ignores the low-income community at every step.  It may be that the only hope now is to try preserve the Oppenheimer and Hastings Corridor neighbourhoods for low-income people so they will have some where to go when they are chased out of Chinatown Condoland.

*Additional new market housing developments in Chinatown have been approved at 189 Keefer (82 condos) and 217 E. Georgia (26) and have been proposed at 245 E. Georgia (40).