12-Storey Residential Tower in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside
Community organizers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside will go to battle this week over plans for a gleaming 12-storey rental building in the impoverished neighbourhood.
Wall Financial Corp. has proposed a 172-unit rental development at 288 East Hastings St.
The lot at the intersection of Gore Street, home to a half-dozen small businesses, was bought last year from Fan Tower Inc. for $5 million.
It sits in the Oppenheimer District, where new zoning rules require 60 per cent of units to be social housing and the remainder secured market rentals.
Architect Endall Elliot Associates’ design would bring 104 units of non-market rental units to the neighbourhood, all micro-suites averaging 255 square feet in size.
The building’s six top floors would be market rentals ranging from 360 square-foot studios to 840 square-foot two-bedroom units.
But the Carnegie Community Action Project fears the development would only push low-income residents out of the neighbourhood and gentrify the area.
CCAP will be attending a community open house to discuss the proposal this Thursday.
CCAP’s Jean Swanson, a veteran housing activist, said a requirement for only one-third of the non-market units to be rented at the $375 shelter rate — equating to 20 per cent of the overall number of units — does little to help all those struggling on a $610 welfare cheque.
“They aren’t good enough because what we desperately need in the Downtown Eastside is housing for homeless people and housing for people who live in the SROs,” Swanson said.
“Last year there were 836 homeless people counted in the Downtown Eastside. It’s the highest count ever. We’re in a crisis.”
She said similar developments in the past have helped raise nearby land values, taxes, rents and hotel rates.
With SROs being “gentrified,” the shuttering of temporary housing at 1335 Howe St. and virtually no new buildings opening, Swanson said she expects Vancouver’s homelessness situation to spike next year.
King-mong Chan, an organizer with the Chinatown Concern Group, said the development will hurt the “essence” and heritage of Chinatown.
“Traditionally, it’s served working-class Chinese people, but now with the development and the gentrification, it’s changing to a more trendy kind of neighbourhood similar to Yaletown,” he said.
“This development will continue to drive this change.”
Chan said there’s “anger” with how the building would force several shops catering to the Chinese community to close, including a barber, a bakery and a barbecue meat shop.
Bruno Wall, president of Wall Financial Corp., said he sees the proposed development as a “win-win” for the community, providing much-needed rental units that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
Wall said its non-market rental rates would be up to the housing operator, who hasn’t yet been confirmed. He expects the operator to maximize the number of units that are shelter rate — but such a decision would be “a function of the economics of the whole project,” he said.
“The reality is, we’re creating both non-market and rental housing that didn’t exist. It’s not like we’re tearing down an SRO where you might lose 20 or 30 units. This is all brand new inventory,” Wall said.
Asked about the businesses closing, Wall said one has already relocated and he’s given the others more time to make plans before they’ll have to vacate at the end of the year.
The firm is working closely with the city and is in negotiations with B.C. Housing to provide design and financial support with the project, Wall said.
“I see this project as delivering top-quality housing at shelter rates,” he said.
“I don’t see this as gentrification, I see this as adding new housing opportunities and a variety of housing opportunities.”
Before the developer’s application can be accepted, it must go to the city’s Development Permit Board for review in January.
The community open house will be held Thursday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Chinese Cultural Centre at 50 East Pender St.