City set to approve first Downtown Eastside tower with 60-percent social-housing requirement

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      A new apartment complex planned for the intersection of East Hastings and Gore streets is attracting negative attention from housing advocates despite the project including a major component of social housing.

      The 12-storey building proposed for 288 East Hastings heads to the development-permit board for final approval on Monday (January 25).

      In addition to 68 units renting at the market rate, the proposal includes 34 units to rent at the welfare rate of $375 a month plus another 70 units nonmarket rental. Nevertheless, the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) has planned a demonstration to take place at City Hall to coincide with the permit-board meeting.

      “We want 100% social housing at welfare rate with shops for the low-income and Chinese community!” reads a CCAP poster that’s been distributed online and throughout the neighbourhood.

      King-mong Chan is community organizer with CCAP’s Chinatown Concern Group. In a telephone interview, he maintained that what is needed to secure housing for low-income people in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside is nothing less than 100 percent of any new building renting at the welfare rate of $375 a month.

      “Chinese seniors have had a cultural, linguistic environment for them,” he said. “Chinatown has been that place. But it is a place that is changing.”

      Chan claimed that the development has already displaced seven independent businesses he described as serving the Chinese community and low-income customers. While the proposal includes 6,000 square feet of space for commercial retailers, Chan suggested that whatever businesses move into the new space will likely be paying higher rent and therefore catering to clientele with higher incomes.

      “In Chinatown, we are seeing a lot of displacement of retail,” he said.

      The application was filed by Endall Elliot Associates. The developer behind the proposal is Wall Financial Corp.  In a telephone interview, the company’s president, Bruno Wall, said it’s tough to understand what there is to protest.

      He noted that the site’s former owner was leasing to those commercial tenants under a demolition clause for several years.

      “We are hopeful that we can put some retail back in that continues to service the needs of the community,” Wall told the Straight. “That was basically food-oriented retail, with the herb store, the bakery, and the butcher. So, hopefully, if something like that can be viable, then we would certainly look at that again.”

      The corner of East Hastings Street and Gore Avenue is presently occupied by a string of single-story retail outlets that will likely soon be replaced by a 12-story mixed-use tower.
      Travis Lupick

      He emphasized that the development will bring 104 units of below-market housing to the area.

      “There is no displacement with this project,” Wall said. “There is no housing on the site now. There is single-storey retail. And so we are creating brand-new housing, both nonmarket and market rental, where none exists today.”

      He explained that 288 East Hastings falls within the Oppenheimer District, which has specific requirements for social housing that don’t exist anywhere else in the city.

      As outlined in the project report prepared for the development-permit committee, those requirements state that 60 percent of the project (for 288 East Hastings, 104 units comprising no less than 40 percent of floor space) must fall into the category of social housing. Of that 60 percent of units, one third (35 units) should rent at the welfare rate of $375 a month, one third at a rate not exceeding the area’s housing-income limit ($912 for a bachelor suite in Oppenheimer), and one third in line with “affordable market rents”, which, for East Hastings, stand at a maximum of $846 per month.

      For 288 East Hastings, the 104 units renting below the market rate are described as “micro dwellings” and will average 255 square feet in size. Of the 68 market rental units, there will be 22 studio apartments of 360 to 450 square feet, 24 one-bedroom units averaging 550 square feet, and 22 two-bedroom units of 700 to 840 square feet.

      The 12-story tower proposed for 288 East Hastings will consist of a mix of social housing, market-rate apartments, and retail outlets occupying the ground floor.
      Endall Elliot Associates

      In a telephone interview, Kevin McNaney, an assistant director of planning with the City of Vancouver, said that if all goes well on Monday, 288 East Hasting will be the first tower approved for construction that fulfills that criteria for social housing required by the Downtown Eastside Local Area Development Plan.

      “There was definite concern on the part of low-income people in the Downtown Eastside that the DEOD [Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District] has low-income housing,” he said. “And we determined that’s the appropriate mix, given the population of the area.”

      McNaney emphasized that it’s that mix that makes social-housing projects viable.