The lesson from Woodward’s is that condos in Chinatown are a low-income extinguishment project

I’m speaking against the rezoning application

I want to acknowledge the unceded territory of the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam and Squamish nations. In 1913 city council passed a bylaw outlawing “Indian camps” in the city limits and the major Musqueam village Snauq was displaced by barge. No doubt a lot of the language used to justify the displacement of Snauq exactly 100 years ago is deja vu’d in the coming great displacement of our time, what Clr. Jang called the “deliberate policy of our council to make [the DTES] a mixed community”. And no doubt that language of justification was used in council chambers, in the media, and at the respectable beer parlours or whatever passed for twitter in those days, all enforcing eachother into a chorus so loud it appeared to be consensus and so ubiquitous it appeared to be true. But they were wrong; with the benefit of 100-years of hindsight and different social consensuses and truths we can see that now.

But isn’t that hyperbole? It’s one thing to displace an entire Musqueam village by decree to engineer white settlement, it’s another to revitalize the DTES. Whether that’s true or not hinges on the question of what SOCIAL MIX is.

Social mix is city-planning philosophy in the Downtown Eastside. Speaking as someone who engages with DTES city planners constantly and who reads and pays attention to every planning report drafted about the DTES, social mix seems to be THE planning philosophy for the DTES. In what other neighbourhood is changing it and the people who live in it the primary purpose behind every single plan and development directive? Clr. Jang’s quote from the Sun yesterday summarizes this fixation perfectly: “It’s not gentrification, it is the deliberate policy of our council to make it a mixed community.” As though that were not gentrification.

Social mix has been planning theory in the DTES for awhile, really ever since real estate and retail market interest in the area reemerged, but it has only been PRACTICE for a short time: since Woodward’s, which was the social mix experiment.

A New York Times article published around the opening of Woodward’s explains that:

  • “We have committed to a naïve rainbow vision that all the different groups are going to get along,” said PHS executive director, Mark Townsend. “Whether that works remains to be seen.”
  • “Everyone will mix in this space,” the architect Mr. Henriquez said.
  • And Ian Gillespie, Westbank developer, said, “Come back in a year,” he said, “and see how this social experiment turns out.”

It has now been four years since the Woodward’s experiment and, although city hall seems content to barrel along with the Social Mix theory as though it has not been tested and able to be weighed and measured through looking at the Woodward’s experiment.

Even though council passed a motion for a social impact statement about Woodward’s, city staff has not done one. We want to offer you CCAP’s report card.

Look at our maps on page 15 of CCAP’s 2012 SRO hotel report. You can see that in 2005, there were 404 hotel rooms within a block of Woodward’s that rented to low-income people. Now there is the Grand Union. Period. The others are closed or have high rents. A few are leased by non-profits. So yes, we got 125 welfare rate single units at WW but we lost 404 to WW inspired gentrification so there has been a net loss of 279 units of low-income affordable units in the Woodward’s area.

Now, this hearing is about 611 Main, one building out of a total of 561 condo-units proposed over the next couple of years for Chinatown. 388 units of SROs and low-rent housing surround these proposed condos. But instead of 125 welfare rate units like at Woodward’s, the 11 welfare-rate units in this proposed building are the only social housing on offer in exchange for all 561 condo units.

Woodward’s netted us a deficit of 279 low-income units of housing.

Chinatown condos will net us a deficit of 388 low-income units of housing.

Quoted in the Tyee Clr. Jang said displacement isn’t happening, gentrification isn’t real, because new developments are in empty lots, not directly taking low-income housing. Clr. Jang seems to think you’re only killed by a bomb if it lands directly on you in your home. But the mushroom cloud and hellfire of social mix gentrification’s rent increases destroy far more housing than a direct eviction and conversion, with the added benefit of council denial of culpability. But you are culpable.

Social mix is a displacement strategy, a low-income community liquidation practice, a philosophy of social cleansing and extinguishment. The evidence is there in your Woodward’s experiment and it is telling you to turn down this rezoning application and stop all condo developments until low-income housing tenure (at the very least) is secure.