This Wednesday, October 21st, Vancouver Mayor and Council will vote on whether or not to remove the Georgia Viaducts. The removal of the viaduct down-ramps will free up two city-owned blocks of land located immediately east and west of Main Street between Prior Street and Union Street. It will also open up over 7 acres of Concord Pacific land for condominium development.
Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) is concerned that the current plan will “turn the area into another Yaletown,” to quote CCAP member Victoria Bull. We are also concerned that the development will accelerate gentrification of Chinatown and Downtown Eastside. Gentrification displaces low-income people, breaks up communities, and makes it harder for those who are able to stay.
So far everything indicates that the plan is likely to turn the area into a new Yaletown. According to the staff report, the $180 to $200 million cost of removing the viaducts, will be funded through condominium development-related revenues, including sale or lease of lands in Northeast False Creek and City-owned blocks east of Quebec Street. In other words, the plan to finance the viaduct removal hinges on high-end development and rising land values in the area.
Last year, over 300 Single Residency Occupancy (SRO) units – the last stop before homelessness – were lost as gentrification pushed up the rents in many of the SRO hotels in the Downtown Eastside. It is likely that current plan will accelerate this ongoing loss of affordable housing in the area, while at the same time failing to add new units of social housing to the area.
According to the staff report, the plan is to use this city-owned land to build about 1,000 market units with 200-300 so called “affordable” housing units. However, as CCAP member Fraser Stuart says, “the affordable housing will not be affordable to low-income people. The City’s affordable housing is higher than market rents.”
According to the City, anything that rents below $1,443 per month for a studio, $1,517 for a one-bedroom, and $2,061 for a two-bedroom apartment qualifies as “affordable housing.” This is far out of range for most working class people in the city, and more importantly for the people on welfare who live in the surrounding area and who only receive a total $610 a month, of which at least $375 goes towards rent.
Taken together, the plan as it currently exists is likely to perpetuate the history of displacement on the city-owned sites. The viaducts were built upon the displacement and dispersal of Vancouver’s Black community. In the early 1970’s, the predominately Black community living in Hogan’s Alley was violently expropriated and displaced to make way for the viaducts.
While CCAP opposes the current plan, we believe that it is important that any future planning process is inclusive of former Hogan’s Alley residents, their descendants, and Vancouver’s Black community groups. The viaducts are a testament to past injustices perpetuated by the City, and should be an opportunity to learn from the past and not repeat mistakes over again. Any future plan needs to make sure that development does not come at the cost of continued displacement.