Resolution to stop Chinatown towers :: Stay tuned for info about Public Hearing

More info about the Fight the Height Campaign:

A City Council motion to raise heights restrictions in the Chinatown sub-district of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), will soon go forward to public hearing. This heights increase will increase profits for some developers at the cost of increased gentrification and, ultimately, homelessness for the DTES low-income community. This motion is one part of a city staff report that Council amended on January 20th. The other part of the motion promises to restrain tower heights and protect low-income housing in 7 out of 8 sub-districts of the DTES — everywhere except Chinatown.

DTES Community Resolution to stop Vancouver City’s condo towers plan in Chinatown / Salt Water City

January 27, 2011

Dear Mayor and Council members,

As individuals, resident groups and agencies we believe the low-income community of families, seniors and singles in hotel rooms make up the majority population of Chinatown and are an essential part of the fabric of Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside as a whole; and we are concerned about:

· Hotel room rent increases (only 12% of privately owned rooms now rent for the welfare shelter allowance or less) not tracked by the city and rent increases for businesses serving low income residents;

· Hotel closures and “renovictions;”

· The ripple effects of gentrification which will include the displacement of low-income residents from the Downtown Eastside, including Chinatown, contrary to city policy;

· Increased homelessness measured in the last city survey;

· More harassment of low-income residents by security guards and police;

· The erosion of unique and authentic community assets such as a strong sense of community, feeling accepted and at home, empathy with people who have health and addiction issues, connection to our cultural heritage, a strong commitment to volunteering, cheap or free necessities that are close by, needed health and social services;

· A Local Area Plan that does not include residents in Chinatown will not be able to guarantee the rights, assets, and tenure of the low-income community as a whole,

We call on City Council to:

* Replace all Chinatown SROs with social housing for all current residents, especially Chinese seniors, singles and families; and
* Support the designation of Chinatown / Salt Water City as a UNESCO world heritage site by preserving the heritage buildings and culture of Chinatown, upholding those critical parts of the Chinatown plan, while ensuring low-income residents and their shops and services are not displaced by the higher rents caused by condos and fancy restaurants; and
* Make Chinatown part of the Local Area Plan (LAP) and actively involve low-income residents of Chinatown in the LAP committee; and
* Buy 10 sites for low income resident-controlled social housing within the Downtown Eastside before the next municipal election; and
* Vote against adding any new density for condos within the Downtown Eastside, including Chinatown until the assets and tenure of low-income residents are secured and until the Social Impact Study and DTES Strategy are complete.

We also call on city staff and Council to respond to the hateful poor bashing articles that are appearing in local newspapers and affirm that it is not Council policy to “destroy” the DTES (which Ethan Baron called for in The Province on January 21), and that the low-income community and its organizations are not “outsiders” in the Chinatown sub-district of the DTES (as claimed by Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail on January 24).

*Send endorsements of this statement to with the name of your group and “Endorsement” in the subject line.

Endorsers of this statement:

ACCESS: Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society
BC Elders Family Cultural Circle
Carnegie Community Action Project
Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC)
Gallery Gachet
Indigenous Action Movement
PACE: Providing Alternatives Counseling and Education Society
Spartacus Books
Streams of Justice
Vancouver Action (VanAct!)
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)

Two condo towers down and five to go

Downtown Eastside residents had a little victory on Jan. 20th. 80 people signed up to speak at City Hall, 29 professors signed a very public letter, and a group of high profile folks, including former Premier Mike Harcourt and former Carnegie Director Michael Clague in the Building Community Society also wrote a letter that became public.

The issue was this: Would Council adopt a new policy that allows developers to build higher condo towers in the DTES?

The pressure was too great for Council. At the very last minute they cancelled all the speakers and passed a motion. The motion stops developers from building 15 story condo towers at 99 W. Pender and 425 Carrall St. and stops them from buildings 12 story towers in the Main and Hastings area for at least a year. But Council sent plans to allow developers to build at least 5, 15 story condo towers on Main St. between Keefer and Union to a public hearing probably in February.

The motion also sets up a Local Area Planning Committee for the entire DTES except for Chinatown. And it said that the Committee will be co-chaired by a person from the Building Communities Society and the DTES Neighbourhood Council. This committee is supposed to “enhance and accelerate a DTES local areas plan and to develop a clear strategy to implement the existing Council approved DTES Housing Plan.” The co-chairs will select the other committee members. One of them must be from the Strathcona Residents’ Association. The co-chairs will also decide on the terms of reference. The City Manager is supposed to “ensure that appropriate resources are allocated” to ensure that the project is done by Dec. 31, 2011.

Rezoning of 99 W. Pender, 425 Carrall and the Main and Hastings area will be considered after the planning committee reports at the end of December. The Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council will consider whether to participate or not or under what conditions, at its next meeting on Feb. 5 from 2pm-3pm at the First United Church (Hastings & Gore). This meeting is open to non-members as well.


Was it a total victory? No way! Can we stop fighting now? Definitely not. But Council did feel our pressure, and all those people who signed up to speak should give themselves a nice big pat on the back. Victories don’t come too often so it’s worth celebrating, even though it’s not nearly 100% of what we wanted and we have to keep fighting. There are good parts in the resolution. One part that is a victory is that the owner of the BC Electric Building can’t start building a 15 story tower. He’s stuck with only 7 stories (which will slow, if not stop, redevelopment there for sure). The owner of 99 W. Pender, a vacant lot, can’t build a 15 story tower there either. He’s also stuck with about 7 stories. Marc Williams, the Pantages owner, can’t build a 12 story building. He’s stuck with 9 stories. Cam Watts of District 319 (across from cop shop – mega development from Waves to the Ford Building) is in the same boat as Williams.

This is also a victory for the DTES Neighbourhood Council. It has only been around for 1 year. But it has earned enough respect in the DTES community that the city thinks it’s important to have the DNC co-chair the planning committee.

Another victory is a local area plan needs to be in place before applications for rezoning will be considered.

The worst part of the city’s motion, which is definitely not a victory, is that Chinatown has been carved out of the DTES and the city has sent the plans for 15 story towers there to a public hearing. The hearing will probably be on Feb. 17 or March 3. This is where we have to keep fighting. CCAP will organize people to speak at the public hearing, especially low income Chinatown residents who face gentrification if the tower plan goes ahead.

The wording in the motion is also questionable because it says one purpose of the local area plan is to implement the DTES Housing Plan. The DTES Housing Plan has some good parts that say condos can’t surge ahead and the SRO’s need to be replaced. The bad part of the DTES Housing Plan is it says the city needs to encourage more affordable condos in the area. But, it’s good that we get to set the terms of reference for the planning process because we will have some power to influence how the DTES Housing Plan is read.

If the DNC agrees to work with the Building Community Society to co-chair the planning committee it could be good or bad. It could be good because CCAP and the DNC may have some influence with them and they did support our latest push at city hall. They may be less biased against the low income community than a Business Improvement Association or some other outside group. But it is bad because they have no real connection or authority in the DTES. No planning committee in Kerrisdale or Mt Pleasant would be expected to have a table of outside so-called “experts” from another neighbourhood on their committees.

You never win 100% of what you want. But we sure scared them. The planning department and council have been pushing this for 3 years and CCAP met with city planners or council every few months about it and we said the same thing over and over again – they can’t rezone until there is a plan to secure the tenure and assets of the community. So now we have to fight to stop the towers in Chinatown and to get Chinatown included in the DTES plan, and especially to protect about 1000 low income Chinatown residents from the impact of gentrification.

Response to poor bashing Vancouver Sun article – published

Condo towers do not provide affordable housing to residents

By Jean Swanson, Vancouver Sun February 1, 2011

Re: Giving a lift to the Downtown Eastside: Build taller buildings, Editorial, Jan. 27

Poor bashing often increases when profits are threatened.

To define the downtown as “a gloomy ghetto of misery, destitution and squalor” is to be utterly blind to the sense of community, caring, volunteering, beauty and innovation (the only Safe Injection Site in North America) that is the Downtown Eastside.

To assume that “activists” want to “preserve the status quo” is to be ignorant of two years of work done by the Carnegie Community Action Project with 1,200 people: A Community Vision for Change that was developed by the low-income community.

To accuse volunteers who spend hours and days learning about zoning and gentrification and city hall and how to read planners’ reports and how to write speeches of having a “vested interest” in preserving “squalor” is to use name-calling to discredit rather than help people understand.

To blindly assert that low-income housing has not been lost is to ignore rent increases in hotels, especially the ones close to Woodwards.

Only 12 per cent of privately owned rooms are now renting for the welfare shelter allowance of $375 a month (from CCAP’s hotel survey, Pushed Out, 2010).

Many are over $500, making it nearly impossible to survive on welfare of $610 a month.

We do need housing but it has to be affordable to Downtown Eastside residents and other low-income people in the city. Condo towers don’t provide affordable housing. They do have bad ripple effects like increasing property values and rents in neighbourhood housing and businesses, pushing low income residents out and increasing homelessness. But they also provide profit for developers.

Response to poor bashing Province news article

“Downtown Eastside shouldn’t be ghetto for poor”
Ethan Baron
The Province, Jan 21, 2011

I’m not sure why you wrote this article or how you have come to the perspectives on the Downtown Eastside expressed in it, but I thought I would respond to some of things that you say.

It seems odd to me that, after describing the Downtown Eastside as “a close-knit neighbourhood” and “the friendliest postal code in the Lower Mainland,” you would call for its complete destruction. Do you think friendly, caring and supportive communities should not exist in the city? Why would you advocate that the residents of this remarkable neighbourhood be dislocated and dispersed, and then integrated into other neighbourhoods?

On the one hand, perhaps you think that they will infuse the other areas of the city with their friendly, caring ways and so improve the character of our city as a whole. On the other, perhaps you believe relocation would facilitate their assimilation into the habits of atomized and alienated middle-class living, and enable them to construct successful lives of comfortable self-preservation through strategies of commodity acquisition and the pursuit of private interests and personal security. Or perhaps you think that, being surrounded by wealthier, vocationally-minded people, they will come to emulate the work ethic and fiscal wisdom of the upwardly mobile, and conform their lives more closely to the dominant mechanisms of capitalist command and discipline.

Maybe you imagine a better life for them than what you think they now experience. Instead of volunteering at Carnegie or VANDU, they could be working for $8 an hour at Walmart; instead of helping a neighbour with child-care or contributing to the Neighbourhood Council, they could be shopping at the mall; instead of contributing to artistic events or engaging in familiar social activities, they could be at home watching football, drinking beer and popping anti-depressants all alone. Frankly, I just can’t see why anyone would want to relocated people from a close-knit, friendly community like the Downtown Eastside to some other part of the city, where they have no friends, no familiar networks of support, and no pathways of community participation; and where the lives of others around them, despite material affluence, might be rife with loneliness, addictions of various kinds, and vacuous rituals of consumption.

Moreover, I wonder if it would be very beneficial to Downtown Eastsiders’ self-esteem to be forced to move from a close-knit, supportive and friendly community into a neighbourhood where vitriolic NIMBY sentiments toward social housing projects create a constant awareness of being despised and unwanted, and where unequal economic resources restrict or prohibit shared experiences with others on the block.

It is disturbing to hear you call for the forced displacement of people from their community against their will. Not only does it resonate with the historic discourse of brutal and devastating colonial strategies of displacement and assimilation imposed on indigenous people, it also goes against the grain of what DTES residents themselves say about their own neighbourhood. The community vision that emerged after hundreds of interviews with DTES residents by CCAP showed that 90% of the participants wanted to stay in the community, describing it as a place of acceptance, creativity and support not as a ghetto, slum, hellhole or violent open-air drug market (your terms). It seems you don’t know the community very well at all; you haven’t been listening to the people you want to displace very carefully,

A couple of other points. In one paragraph you state: “Two years ago, the province embarked on a project to create 600 units of “supportive” housing for low-income people with issues such as addiction, disability and mental illness. More than half these units were slated for the Downtown Eastside.” I’m not actually clear about the project you are referring to here. Are you thinking of the SRO purchases in the area? These are, of course, not new housing, there are more than 600 units, and most of them were in the DTES. Of course SROs, no matter how much paint is applied to the walls or what renovations are implemented, are not adequate housing. They are not self-contained units and were only intended for temporary and transitional use. We might think of them as sites of transitional homelessness.

On the other hand, you might be referring to the new 14 sites of supportive housing that the City and the Province are developing. In this case, however, only 5 are technically in the DTES (so less than half), and 3 of these are located on the outer edge of the neighbourhood, surrounded by condo towers and upscale amenities (so barely within the boundaries of the DTES). In any case, your statement is ambiguous and not altogether accurate, though I guess it works well for your argument.

In another paragraph you assert: “It’s also a community rife with violence, where the disadvantaged, traumatized and mentally ill are targeted by drug dealers and transformed into addicts with no hope for a better life.” This does seem to be an overly simplistic stereotype of the neighbourhood, and its sound-byte quality fails to offer any meaningful understanding of it. But then, you do not want people to understand the community; you want people to support its destruction.

It is arguable that the primary causes of whatever violence there is in the area are poverty and prohibition, and the legal and legislative frameworks that establish and police them. The pressures and strains that attend the deprivation of basic necessities, the humiliation of being poor amid the surrounding wealth of the city, the desperation to survive on income well below the poverty line, may well burst forth on occasion as personal violence or property loss, but that only masks the systemic violence of state policies that force people into such circumstances.

The most obvious source of violence in the neighbourhood is the regime of prohibition that renders some substances illegal and others legally regulated. Rather than setting all drugs within a public health framework of regulation, the production, distribution and use of some drugs have been criminalized, which means they have been put into the hands of organized crime to manage. There is no recourse within a prohibitionist criminal code to monitor the composition, sale or safe use of illicit substances, and no mechanism of appeal when transactions go bad. Add to this the astounding profits of an illegal market within a culture that idolizes wealth, and the conditions are set for violence to escalate. Again, larger structural forces are at work in determining the presence of violence in this community, and these same forces contribute to violence in many other communities as well. Displacing people from their neighbourhood is no solution at all. Drug addiction is rife throughout our city; it is just more visible in the DTES. So moving people out into other neighbourhoods would not solve anything; it just might make them more vulnerable to social stigma and police harassment. Hope for a better life (however that might be defined) would seem to lie within a supportive and caring community, not outside it.

So I can only think that the DTES upsets your aesthetic sensibilities, and you would like to see it destroyed and then transformed to look more like Yaletown. Ship everyone out whose material poverty is visible and whose life escapes the norms of a civil city. That seems to be your solution, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. Why not find ways to strengthen and solidify the wonderful attributes of the community, and support in new and bold ways the lives of those who call the DTES home? Why not amplify the positive assets of the community instead of destroy them?

What you have written is threatening and dangerous to a community already under great strain from urban planners and condo developers. We don’t need journalists adding fuel to the fire.

Will the city take Concord’s empty Hastings properties for social housing?

Have you been listening to the news lately? The city may take over 2 DTES properties on Hastings owned by Concord Pacific, one of the biggest real estate companies in Canada. But not for free. It would be a “switcheroo” that allows Concord to build 100% condos on 2 North False Creek properties that are supposed to be social housing. The two Concord sites in the DTES are on Hastings. One is 58 W Hastings (Olympic tent city site across from Funky’s) and another is 117 E Hastings (the garden near Insite). “58” is advertised to be “Greenwich” condos. Likely the garden site was going to be condos too. In at least 2 surveys of DTES residents that CCAP knows about, the vast majority of residents call for more social housing in their neighbourhood. The Olympic tent city site is named as one of the 10 sites that the DTES Neighbourhood Council wants for 100% social housing. The housing on these 2 potentially city owned sites could really help make a dent in the homelessness problem by providing housing for low-income seniors, for low-income families, for Aboriginal and Chinese community members and more.

So, this sounds like a great opportunity, right? That’s what we thought when we first heard it too, but there are serious concerns.

Firstly, Concord has already made their millions in profits. After Expo, Concord got a sweet deal for cheap land on False Creek and over the years built tons of condos along the waterfront. Recently, Concord built “Smart” condos across the street from Four Sisters Housing Co-op on Powell Street and gave nothing back to the community. Concord can afford, with their profits to “give” and not “exchange” the DTES property.

Secondly, consider this even bigger problem. If this switeroo goes ahead, not only would there be no social housing on False Creek, but the two DTES properties may not end up with social housing on them either. On CBC radio, Vision Councillor Meggs said 58 West should have housing for “couples with good paying jobs.”

So, what can we do about all this? CCAP will push the city to get the Hastings sites for free, build social housing on False Creek and work to ensure the Hastings sites have 100% social housing on them. You can make your point of view heard to city council at an upcoming public hearing at 12th and Cambie on the 3rd floor in the city council chambers. Stay in touch with CCAP and come along to city hall with us when it happens. The last 2 times we gave our input to council on housing issues in the DTES, we managed to shift them a little. This could be another example of that.

Can a city-run gentrification study help us?

A year ago CCAP was worried that the Downtown Eastside (DTES) had taken a serious blow from pro-developer forces at City Hall. City Council wanted more condos built in the DTES. CCAP wanted the City do a study on the effect of gentrification on the low-income community first. Council voted to give the developers a go-ahead. It was bad news but it wasn’t completely bad: City council was barreling on ahead with their development plans, but they agreed to the study. That study is starting this month; it’s called a “Social Impact Assessment” (SIA) and CCAP is taking part in it.

The SIA is supposed to figure out what happens to low-income people when the city lets (or helps) developers build condo towers and other market developments in the DTES. And yes, you’re right, we already know what happens when new condo projects are built: rents go up, students take over hotel rooms, fancy boutiques take the storefronts where cheap stores used to be, more security guards roam the streets. Our community explained all this and wrote it out together through CCAP’s Community Vision report writing process. But city planners are determined to redo all this work.

So, Ivan from CCAP is participating in the SIA observer committee, along with nine other low-income DTES residents. The observer committee is working with Vancouver city planners to set up workshops where low-income residents are comfortable showing up and talking about what we think and how we feel. We think a city-run gentrification study can help us, but we know that we have to work hard to be sure that there is space at these workshops for low-income residents to explain all the experiences, ideas, feelings, and worries that come from life amongst the condo towers… and we need your help.

The first workshop will be at First United Church, probably sometime in early March. Stay tuned for more updates and information: the city needs to hear your voice!