288 Hastings Wrong Model to End Homelessness: By Harold Lavender

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The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is being swamped by high impact gentrifying projects including at 288 East Hastings, southwest corner of Gore Street, across from First United Church.  This is happening at a time when homelessness in the DTES is at record levels, and the very existence of long-standing, low-income communities in the DTES and Chinatown in particular are under threat.

The project at 288 is a partnership between BC Housing and the Wall Corporation, one of Vancouver’s largest and most politically connected private developers.

This 12 storey project will include 172 rental units including 68 high-end for-profit rentals and 104 non-market units. However only 34 will be available at welfare rate. The rest will rent at the Housing Income Limits rate of $912 (which is not fixed and could rise). In effect, existing residents of the DTES most at risk of homelessness will be excluded from these units.

Backers of the project claim that 34 units are better than nothing. They act like they are doing us a favour but they aren’t – they’re merely conforming to the new zoning requirements as part of the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District (DEOD).

Community groups like Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) wanted 100 percent social housing and no condos. What we got was far less. New zoning allows for rentals of which 40 percent would be market and the rest would be non-market but only 20 percent of those at welfare rates.

Market units range from 360 to 840 square feet. However, the welfare rate units are smaller, only 263 square feet.

The weaknesses of this policy have become evident. Major developers are shifting from building condos to high-end rental. And the negative effect of the BC government’s “we don’t build social housing anymore” policy kicks in. Instead BC Housing is partnering with the private sector and offering fifteen to sixteen million dolllsrs for this project. Vancouver City Council continues to support mixed instead of 100 percent social housing projects.

The impact of this large project will boost land values, taxes and rents in the surrounding area. More low-income units will be lost due to gentrification. And it could become the model for more developments. A number of small shops, like the BBQ meat butcher shop, which have long served the low-income and Chinese community have been displaced, delivering a further blow to it historic character. Wall Corporation owns the ground floor retail space and will charge high market rents for them.

For all these reasons, CCAP and groups seeking to save Chinatown opposed this project at the January 25th Development Permit Board hearing.


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