“It displaces no one.” Those were just about the first words Anthony Kuschak said at a press conference introducing a new condo development at 138 East Hastings Street this morning (February 20).
They were spoken with an emphasis that made clear the marketer for Sequel 138 Development Corp. is acutely aware of the sensitive neighbourhood in which the firm is building its 97-unit, six-storey apartment complex.
Directly across the street is Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection facility, which, in 2012, saw an average of 1,028 intravenous drug users pass through its door between 10 a.m. and 4 a.m. every day.
Sequel’s immediate neighbours are both single-room occupancy hotels (SROs), a form of housing that generally serves as a person’s last resort before they turn to a shelter or the street. To the west is Brandi’s Bar and Hotel and to the east is the Regent. A third, the Balmoral, is right across the street, and the Washington Hotel, one of the largest SROs in the city, is next door to that.
At one end of the block is the open-air drug market at Main and Hastings and the Carnegie Community Centre, a hub for neighbourhood social services (as well as for housing advocates critical of developments like the Sequel). At the block’s other end is Columbia Street and the corner where Vancouver’s most-recent homicide was recorded last Friday (February 13).
Kuschak was quick to acknowledge it is a relatively specific type of buyer who paid between $257,000 and $290,000 for a one-bedroom apartment on this block (which, it should be noted, is also a very short walk to the trendy neighbourhoods of Gastown, Main Street, and Chinatown).
“It would be early adopters,” he said. “It would be people who are tolerant to the area. They know the area. They are young professionals. Some are couples, so it’s not all singles. Their age group is 28 to 35. Some of them are, everything from service workers, designers, tech people, to hospital workers.”
There was no great challenge finding such people. In a telephone interview, Mania Hormozi, a development manager with Sequel 138 Development Corp., told the Straight the last of the 79 units going at market rate were sold in December 2013, roughly two years before the building is scheduled to begin moving in tenants.
Back at the press conference in Chinatown, Kuschak noted many buyers were likely attracted to the building’s affordable home ownership program, which let households earning less than $85,000 a year qualify to purchase with no down payment.
The building’s remaining 18 units (roughly 20 percent) are marked as social housing, in-part subsidized by the provincial government. They will be operated by FLJ Housing Society, a nonprofit rooted in Chinatown.
According to Kuschak, nine of those will rent at the welfare rate of $375 per month and another nine will rent below-market, at around $800 a month. He noted these units are the same size and layout as the one-bedroom apartments sold at market.
The two-building complex will also include a 1,750-square foot multimedia space to be operated by the Liberal Arts Society, which Kuschak described as “producers and filmmakers from the area”, plus a 2,800-square foot garden.
“It provides new housing for about 125 new people and it gives the people of Vancouver a new arts space, a new urban farm, and a new breezeway that connects East Pender to Hastings Street,” Kuschak said. “This project does have a lot of heart.”
On how current residents of East Hasting’s 100 block have reacted to the project, Kuschak said it’s been “mixed”.
“Predominantly leaning towards a thank you,” he added. “The voices of concern are small. And I think that’s a larger question outside Sequel 138. They are more concerned about their social needs. And that’s fair.”
From across the street from the Sequel, Daniel Benson, a peer supervisor at Insite, watched a construction crew work on the building’s third floor. He told the Straight that negative reception Kuschak alluded to with his opening remarks hasn’t been as loud as some anticipated.
“I’m actually not hearing much at all,” Benson said. “I live down here, I work down here, and I’m very plugged into the social scene here, and I don’t know.”
But he added there is no doubt low-income residents are worried about how the neighbourhood is changing.
“All these rich people are going to move in here and they are going to complain about the ghetto they just moved into,” he said. “How’s that going to work?”