Downtown Eastside housing activists plan to continue fighting tower proposal

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      A day after Vancouver city council voted to delay a proposal to allow higher buildings in the Downtown Eastside, housing activists say their fight to prevent towers in the neighbourhood isn’t over.

      A motion introduced by Vision Vancouver councillors yesterday was passed just hours before nearly 80 speakers were scheduled to speak on the Historic Area Height Review, which proposes allowing buildings of up to 12 and 15 storeys in certain areas of the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.

      The Chinatown rezoning discussion has now been referred to a public hearing within the next few weeks, while the proposal for higher building allowances in parts of the Downtown Eastside, including the Victory Square and Hastings and Main areas, has been put on hold pending further consultation.

      The motion passed by council indicates a community committee will be struck to develop a land use area plan for the region by the end of the year. The issue will likely go back to council for approval sometime next year, according to Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer.

      But housing advocates say they would like to see Chinatown included in the area plan, and they intend to bring a list of demands to the public hearing.

      “We’re still going to fight very hard to stop the towers in Chinatown,” Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) told the Straight by phone today (January 21).

      “We don’t want to leave any of our low-income residents behind in this planning process, and there’s a good chunk of people living in Chinatown that are part of the Downtown Eastside.”

      Some Downtown Eastside community groups like CCAP have been opposing the taller buildings proposal since 2008, according to Pedersen. She says highrise towers in the area could have negative “ripple effects” on the low-income community, including driving up land prices, loss of low-income housing, rent increases and loss of low-income stores.

      “We need to unite with Chinatown and not let this divide and conquer move force these towers through,” she said.

      But Reimer, who was one of the councillors who helped to draft the motion, said the city has heard strong support for highrise towers from Chinatown organizations that are advocating economic revitalization in the area.

      “The Chinatown associations and the different people who have traditionally, historically and contemporarily been very involved in those debates felt like they had worked hard to come to agreement, and that this report reflected that agreement,” Reimer told the Straight by phone today (January 21).

      “The Downtown Eastside community strongly has said they want a community-led planning process, Chinatown has strongly indicated support for the pieces that are moving forward,” she added. “If Chinatown subsequently has a strong interest and support in being involved in a Downtown Eastside planning process then I think that would be a positive step. But it’s a discussion that hasn’t been happening.”

      Pedersen said council’s decision to put off the Downtown Eastside portion of the rezoning proposal is a victory for housing activists.

      “This is the second time that we’ve moved council on something in the last few months,” said Pedersen. “I think this is a good sign, and I think people should be encouraged, and they should organize. It’s so important.”

      Council's move came a day after a letter signed by 29 academics called on the city not to proceed with the height review until a community based planning process is conducted.

      Reimer said the public hearing will likely be scheduled for sometime between mid-February and early March.

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      Jan 21, 2011 at 3:27pm

      Basically I have noticed these people oppose anything they don't control. So sad.


      Jan 21, 2011 at 4:41pm

      "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what YOU can do for your country"

      I wonder what these activists think of those famous words. To them its all about asking what the country can do for them, and do nothing in return.


      Jan 21, 2011 at 5:51pm

      And what is their proposal? Oh right, the same proposal they've been advocating for years: DO NOTHING! Meanwhile, the DTES gets worse and worse, and people like Wendy Pederson work harder and harder to keep it that way. Sad and pathetic.

      Stephen Emery

      Jan 21, 2011 at 10:13pm

      What a stupid opinion of Wendy Peterson. There's no reason why DTES can't be multi use. Some high-rise and some historic. The area is gettin better. Toronto DT shows it well mix always works better. What the DTES doesnt need to become is another Yaletown.

      Paulo Ribeiro

      Jan 22, 2011 at 11:58am

      In theory, the DTES can become a mixed neighborhood but in practice, wealthier condo owners tend to want to push them out. Since we can't seem to get enough resources to house and serve the people already there, what reason do we have to believe they will be anything but worse off if we open the area up to new development?

      I personally would like to see the DTES/Gastown to become an inclusive, more liveable, mixed community but to ensure that will happen we need certain commitments from the City, Province and from developers. I think the continued success of Woodwards will have a lot to do with future planning in the area.

      Living situation and services for the poor have improved moderately since the 90's but too many still suffer in substandard housing or lack of any housing at all.

      Just ask

      Jan 23, 2011 at 10:02pm

      All you have to ask is just ask anyone who really lives a marginal existence not only in DTES but in other neighbourhoods as well. How much have rents increased? How much have to price of utilities increased? How much has to cost of food increased? And transit?

      All which are determined to a considerable extent by the influx of people willing to go into debt for a new condo and who don't understand how their presence affects the long term residents of those neighbourhoods.

      We don't need patronizing comments about what it is we can and can't control. We live with those realities everyday and we decided when enough is enough and that its time to push back against poorly thought out encroachments in our neighbouhoods and public spaces.

      The idea that we are somehow expecting something from our country by opposing the corporate developmental agenda is laughable. Is it not the developers who rush in to purchase publicly held lands at a pittance of their actual market value? Did some one say something about looking to the state for handouts???

      I say burn them all down.

      Steven M.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 11:27pm

      What's the difference between Toronto and Vancouver?

      Toronto has jobs AND affordable housing.


      Jan 25, 2011 at 1:02pm

      What Andrea Reimer isn't telling us (and what the Straight isn't reporting) is that all of the so-called consultations that accumulated all of this "support from Chinatown" for the towers proposals were held in English only. The low income residents of that area are primarily elderly people who don't speak English. So the City got the support of the English-speaking business people who likely don't live down there, and may not even work in the businesses they own, so probably never even see the community face to face. Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky.

      I'd also like to add that there IS a huge mobilization with very well-defined proposals that have been sent to council more than once for where and how better housing strategies can be created in the Downtown Eastside. CCAP has produced several very well-researched reports on community impact and appropriate housing strategies down here, most of which have been ignored by the City. So saying that "those activists" are just complaining without putting forward solutions is completely untrue in every way. It just demonstrates how quickly folks want to jump to judge without all the facts in hand, and how this story is being poorly reported by the Straight. Maybe everybody should do a little better research on this one.