Stop condo project say Downtown Eastside residents

For Immediate Release
July 21, 2011

Stop condo project say Downtown Eastside residents

(Vancouver Coast Salish Territory) Stop condos in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) until we have decent housing for the low income residents who live there now. That was the message that low-income DTES residents and their supporters brought to Studio One Architects today at 11 am.

“Housing first for the people who need it,” said Anne Marie Monks, social housing resident who was recently homeless and board member of the DTES Neighbourhood Council. “The rich can buy somewhere else. They can go up to Whistler. DTES belongs to the people.”

“I only know one person who lives in a condo and she lives in Winnipeg. Their world is totally different than mine. We need social housing here, not condos,” said Sandra Pronteau, another social housing resident and member of the Carnegie Community Action Project.

Studio One Architects has submitted a development proposal to the city for 79 condos, 18 more condos that would be sold to a non profit group, and commercial space on the bottom floor. The development would be at 138 E. Hastings, bringing gentrification to the heart of the DTES.

Thirty three groups support a community resolution calling on the Pantages developer to sell his lots at this site to the city for the 2010 assessed value of $3.7 million. The resolution calls for 100% community controlled social housing at the Pantages site. Over 1100 additional people have signed a petition calling on the owner to sell the Pantages site to the city for the 2010 assessed value. At the action today DTES residents and groups called on the architects to withdraw their proposed development.

“Condos displace low income residents by pushing up land values and hotel rents,” said Fraser Stuart, SRO resident who was recently homeless and board member of the DTES Neighbourhood Council. “The city has promised that low income residents won’t be displaced but they are ignoring that promise. We still have hundreds of homeless people in our neighbourhood, and 5000 SROs that need to be replaced with decent housing low income people can afford.”

“We have a right and a responsibility to protect our neighbourhood from changing into a rich neighbourhood. Most people don’t know what is happening at these demolition sites and by the time they do, it will be too late,” said Kim Pacquette, social housing resident, recently homeless and member of the Carnegie Community Action Project.

Dave Diewert of the interfaith social justice group Streams of Justice said: “The utter disregard for the health and safety of workers, adjacent residents and pedestrians during demolition, and the architects’ poor-bashing rhetoric of social mix that accompanied the visual of Sequel 138 on their website, reveal the developer’s distain and contempt for the current residents of this community, and confirms the conviction that the project will only bring harm not benefit to the neighbourhood.”

“We have already stopped the demolition at the site,” said Harsha Walia, of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre Power of Women. This community will use whatever ways we can to stop this project. It won’t be easy for the developer to put condos here.”

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Organized by: DTES residents and the Aboriginal Front Door, Carnegie Community Action Project, DTES Neighbourhood Council, DTES Power of Women Group, Gallery Gachet, Streams of Justice and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users

This is another DTES community action to “unite in fair processes, act in peaceful and necessary ways to expand our abilities, overcome adversity and protect our community” (from DTES Community Vision for Change endorsed by 38 DTES groups).

Contacts:
Wendy Pedersen, Carnegie Community Action Project (604 839 0379)
Dave Diewert, Streams of Justice (604 253 1782)
Harsha Walia, Power of Women (778 885 0040)

Other contacts:
Brent Toderian, City Director of Planning: (604) 873-7698
Tomas Wolf and James Wong, Studio One Architecture: (604) 731-3966
Marc Williams, Developer/Owner of 138 E Hastings/Pantages: (604) 899-6063

Architect poor bashing advertising photo for the “Sequel 138” (the offending blurb was recently taken down on July 20, 2011: http://www.studioonearchitecture.ca/

City’s notification of the new development proposal: http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/developmentservices/devapps/138ehastings/index.htm

Stop condos in the DTES website: http://dtesnotfordevelopers.wordpress.com/savepantages/

More information under BACKGROUND below:
I. 6 reasons to reject the proposal
II. Letter to architects

BACKGROUND:

I. 6 reasons why we want the developer’s proposal to be rejected by the city:

1) Putting more condos in the DTES contradicts the “without displacement” part of the city’s policy of “revitalization without displacement” in the DTES.

Condos cause higher property values, higher rents in SROs, and displacement of low income people from the SROs as we have seen with Woodwards.

2) The 100-block of East Hastings is symbolically important because it includes single room occupancy housing for about 400 low-income people. It also includes key gathering places where low-income DTES residents feel comfortable.

The Carnegie Community Centre serves 5000 low-income people and is a hub for food and library services as well as recreational and cultural activities. Insite ensures access to critical health services for thousands of IV drug users who suffer from discrimination in other spaces. The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre – which is a drop in and safe-space for thousands of low-income women including Chinese seniors, Indigenous women, single mothers, homeless and low-income women – is on the very edge of the 100-block. So is the Aboriginal Front Door Society, the only centre in the area run by and for Indigenous people who are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and poverty as a result of the legacy of colonialism.

Bringing condos to this block could change all of this. The condo-social housing mixed development at Woodward’s caused rents in neighbouring hotels to increase and pushed out residents who depend on welfare and old-age pension. Expensive restaurants and boutique stores replaced low-income serving stores and services. More private security guards and police pushed low-income people out of public spaces.

This is what “revitalization” (i.e. gentrification) looks like. It impacts all low-income people, especially those who are Indigenous, racialized, homeless, drug-users, street youth, transgendered people, and women in the sex trade.

3) The Pantages parcel is in the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District (DEOD), the only zoning area of the DTES that requires 20% social housing in all new developments.

This requirement has kept condos out of the DEOD and ensured that the area remains a sanctuary for low-income people. It has also kept land prices lower than in other areas, so lots are cheaper for governments to buy for social housing. If the Pantages development brings condos to the DEOD, it will open a flood of other condo developments.

4) Building more social housing as well as defending and preserving our DTES community assets are more important – and more life saving – than letting developers make millions in the DTES.

Worthington Properties bought the Pantages Theatre in 2004 for $440,000 and added it to four adjacent properties. The 2010 assessed value of all five of these properties was $3.7 million; probably about three-times the purchase price. The Vancouver Sun reported that Worthington posted the properties for sale in July 2010 for $9 million, almost 7 times the estimated purchase price.

The Pantages site is an opportunity to create a project that works for the low-income community in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. A 100% social housing project at Pantages can focus on the current needs of the DTES. The communities that will be most terribly impacted by a condo development on the 100-block are also those who understand and can plan a 100% social housing project to meet those needs.

5) Allowing condos at the Pantages will violate the city’s Housing Plan which calls for (page 6) “the pace of development of new market and low-income housing” to be similar.
The city’s DTES Housing Plan calls for monitoring the ratio of market to social housing development in the DTES. According to city housing staff who met with CCAP on May 31, almost 500 units of market housing are in the planning stages for the DTES’s future:
Pantages: 79 market units
424 and 452 W. Pender: at least 80 market units
Atira at United We can site: about 80 market units
900 E. Hastings: about 80 market units
58 W. Hastings: about 160 market units
Total market housing: 499

Social housing units planned include:
Pantages: 18
Atira: about 20
900 E. Hastings: 10
Remand centre: 95 but only 24 will be at welfare rates
Above library on E. Hastings: 15-20 at welfare rates
Total social housing: 163 maximum

This means market housing is outpacing social housing by a rate of 3 to 1 at least.

And it gets worse: social housing only means that the housing is owned by the government or a non profit. It does not mean that rents will be affordable to the vast majority of current DTES residents who can only afford $375 for rent. For example, some of the units at the Remand Centre will rent for $758 or more. Most social housing has to rent at levels that would be 30% of an income that is about $10,000 a year above the Stats Canada low income cut-off line, or about $32,000 a year ($800 a month for rent) for a single person.

If we look at a comparison of market housing planned vs. welfare rate housing planned, we get 499 to 44, with market housing outpacing housing for people on welfare, disability, basic old age pension and part time and/or low wage work at a ratio of 11 to 1.

The DTES Housing Plan clearly states (page 6): “The pace of development of new market and low-income housing should be similar.” If the Pantages and other condo developments are allowed to proceed before social housing for low income residents is in place, market housing will be outpacing social housing by a ratio of at least 3 to 1; and in reality for low income DTES residents, by 11 to 1.

Therefore the Pantages project should be stopped because it is contrary to policy in the city’s Housing Plan.

6) The community clearly does not want more condos in the DTES until decent, affordable housing for current residents is secured.

This is shown by over 1100 petition signatures as well as 33 groups that have signed the Community resolution calling on the city to stop the Pantages development.

II. Letter to architect

Studio One Architecture
#240 – 388 West 8th Ave
Vancouver, BC
V5Y 3X2

July 20, 2011

Tomas Wolf and James Wong,

We are residents, organizations and supporters of the Downtown Eastside who first and foremost want to acknowledge that we are located on occupied, unceded Coast Salish territories.

We have come together as a community to oppose the development permit application that you have submitted for Sequel 138. The mixed use development that is being proposed (80% market housing; 20% social housing; commercial space) is unacceptable to us.

The 100 block East Hastings is an important area for the Downtown Eastside community because it contains a substantial number of low-income housing units and many key gathering places for low-income residents that offer a variety of supportive services. Dropping market housing onto this block would be a gentrification bomb in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, setting off a tidal wave of increased rents, land speculation, more condo projects, upscale businesses, and enhanced security and police presence. We have witnessed these impacts on the area immediately surrounding the mixed development at Woodward’s, and we are certain Sequel 138 will unleash similar forces in the heart of the low-income community. The inevitable result will be displacement, exclusion and hostility for those who live the reality of poverty in this neighbourhood that they call home.

We are also disturbed by the paragraph on your website accompanying the Sequel 138 project. Most problematic is the statement, “Affordable ownership of residential homes will bring vitality and crucial element of belonging and accountability to the community.” Here home ownership is presented as capable of generating vitality, belonging and accountability in the community. This is a statement remarkable for its ideological audacity (property ownership produces the common good), its lack of understanding of the current DTES community (which already exhibits vitality and belonging), and its overt poor-bashing (low-income renters are inherently irresponsible). It promotes the idea that middle-class home owners moving into the neighbourhood will normalize the behavior of poor people, making them more “accountable,” though it is unclear to whom and for what such accountability is directed. The entire paragraph demonstrates a profoundly deficient grasp of the complexity, vitality and strength of the low-income community in the DTES, and its rhetoric masks the suffering such a project will inflict on the current residents.

Finally, you are no doubt aware that the demolition of the site has been halted by inspectors from the City of Vancouver and WorkSafe BC. This stoppage was the result of serious breaches in health and safety protocols and procedures. The demolition of the site was being carried out in a manner that showed blatant disregard for the workers on site, neighbouring residents and passing pedestrians. This reveals the developer’s distain and contempt for the current residents of this community, and confirms the conviction that the project will only bring harm not benefit to the neighbourhood.

In light of this, we have drafted a DTES Community Resolution that firmly opposes your development proposal. In the resolution, we call on the City of Vancouver to reject the development permit application, to purchase the land in question, and to designate it for 100% resident controlled social housing and community space that is to be determined by the low-income residents and communities in the DTES. To date we have over 1100 individual signatures and 33 groups and organizations that endorse this resolution. This indicates clearly the strong opposition to this project in the community and among its supporters.

So we are asking that Studio One Architecture immediately withdraw its development permit application for Sequel 138 (DE414810). If this does not happen, you can be assured that the DTES low-income community and its allies will aggressively oppose the project every step of the way.

Sincerely,

Aboriginal Front Door
Carnegie Community Action Project
DTES Neighbourhood Council
DTES Power of Women Group
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
Gallery Gachet
Streams of Justice