Squamish Nation deserves credit for putting tenants at front of the line in Vancouver's high-priced housing market

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      Imagine that.

      A massive amount of rental housing—rather than upscale condos beyond the reach of the vast majority of local residents—could be built within walking and cycling distance of downtown Vancouver and Granville Island.

      The Squamish Nation says it will seek the approval of its members in a referendum for up to 3,000 units for tenants on its property on the south end of the Burrard Bridge.

      Get ready for some howling from Kits Point residents.

      Some of them oppose anything that disrupts their tranquility, whether it's a cycling path through Kitsilano Beach Park or sand being kicked up by volleyball players.

      Of course, anyone who can afford to live at Kits Point—or who has inherited property there—doesn't have to worry about finding a rental dwelling in one of the most expensive cities in Canada.

      I, for one, give credit to the Squamish Nation's elected chief and council for thinking of tenants.

      That's something other governments have so often refused to do when they've had leverage to command the development of much-needed rental housing.

      Condos mushroom along Burrard Street

      What happened at the formerly provincially owned north side of False Creek?

      Or on the formerly City of Vancouver-owned East Fraserlands (now renamed the River District)?

      Or at the formerly provincially owned Little Mountain Housing complex?

      In each instance, no conditions were attached on the sale of public property to ensure that a massive amount of rental housing would be provided.

      Tenants, who comprise a substantial percentage of the city population, were not a priority for the non-Indigenous politicians who could have influenced the outcome in these instances.

      Meanwhile, Marathon Realty put mostly high-priced market condos on its huge property beside Coal Harbour with the full support of the City of Vancouver. It's called "Vancouverism".

      Keep all of this in mind when homeowner protests begin over more rental housing near the Burrard Bridge. We know that they'll be bellyaching about the impact on traffic—and the media will be more than ready to amplify their voices. 

      But let's step back and look at what this Squamish-owned land might offer tenants.

      * A bicycle path that weaves around False Creek and connects to a SkyTrain station.

      * Separated bike lanes across the Burrard Bridge and into downtown.

      * Excellent pedestrian access to the downtown.

      * Easy transit access from downtown on the quite comfy #50 False Creek bus, which connects to three SkyTrain stations.

      * Relatively easy proximity to the highly underutilized Granville Bridge.

      * Access to plenty of fresh and healthy food at Granville Island.

      A larger population in the area might also lead to another boat terminal for ferries crossing False Creek.

      There are transportation solutions that won't inevitably lead to gridlock on the Burrard Bridge.

      And these new homes for tenants would likely spur more dining and grocery-buying opportunities along Cornwall, up Burrard Street, and along the commercial area on West 1st Avenue.

      Right now, Burrard Street south of the bridge is dominated by super-expensive car dealerships.

      The orange section shows the land owned by the Squamish Nation on the south end of the Burrard Bridge.

      This proposal from the Squamish Nation has come forward while one of the city's hottest real-estate plays is unfolding along Burrard Street on the north side of the bridge. It's largely escaped the scrutiny of the broadcast media.

      St. Paul's Hospital is in the process of being downgraded and its replacement is being built on False Creek Flats. Billionaires and multimillionaires know they can make a killing by selling market condos along this strip near the existing hospital site.

      "Hey, you won't have to worry about hearing sirens all the time after the new hospital is built on the other side of town," the real-estate agents can say. "There won't be nearly as many of those drug addicts in the neighbourhood because they'll go to the emergency room on Station Street."

      In the meantime, Concord Pacific has bought the Molson Brewery lands on the south side of the bridge. While it's currently zoned for industrial use, the public can anticipate pressure to eventually allow for market condos.

      It's not out of the question that this area could one day resemble the north shore of False Creek and the land lining Coal Harbour.

      The Squamish Nation, on the other hand, appears to be eager to house tenants with purpose-built rental housing.

      They only regained a small section of their traditional territory in this area in 2002.

      This came many years after their former reserve became the site of railway lines, a lumber company lease, the bridge, and the Seaforth Highlander Armoury. 

      It's worth noting that Indigenous politicians with the Squamish Nation have consistently pushed federal and provincial governments to embrace more environmentally responsible climate policies.

      The Squamish Nation has also played a pivotal role in making Vancouver the reconciliation capital of Canada, which is a point of pride for many liberal-minded residents.

      Now, they're showing the chattering classes that it's possible to dream big when it comes to addressing the crisis facing tenants in Vancouver.

      All of that deserves a round of applause.

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