St. Paul's Hospital move east has future neighbours anxious about impacts on housing

As St. Paul's Hospital prepares to relocate to False Creek Flats, community groups are uniting on shared interests to ensure their voices on the project are heard

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      Public consultation is underway for St. Paul’s Hospital’s to move from the West End to False Creek Flats.  Community groups are holding meetings to unite on shared interests and ensure their voices are heard throughout that process.

      “My biggest concern is your average Strathcona renters,” Pete Fry told the Straight. “Just regular working folk.”

      In a telephone interview, the former chair of the Strathcona Residents' Association said his number-one concern is housing affordability.

      “There really is a sizable [patient] population that is going to come from elsewhere, and their families,” he explained. “And that’s not to mention the hospital employees, doctors, and nurses, and the kind of housing they are going to need. It is a big deal. And we can’t build housing fast enough.”

      Fry, a former council candidate with the Green Party, pointed to a Providence Health Care analysis that states between 55 percent and 60 percent of patients visiting St. Paul’s West End location come from outside the City of Vancouver.

      He asked how the areas around the new site for St. Paul’s, on the corner of Prior and Station streets just northeast of the Main Street-Science World SkyTrain Station, is going to accommodate so many people who will want to stay close by.

      “I do worry about the fabric of the community,” Fry added. “I worry it will all price out a lot of the younger families here.”

      On June 8, the CommunityIMPACT Consulting, which has been hired by city to draft a social-impact assessment, will hold a community workshop with the Strathcona Residents Association that includes a presentation from the city. That’s happening at the Strathcona Community Centre beginning at 7 p.m. People interested in attending are asked to RSVP.

      On June 16, CommunityIMPACT will hold a town hall with the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) that will focus on how the hospital’s move will impact the Downtown Eastside.

      There's also has an online questionnaire where people can express their opinions on different aspects the move. That’s open until June 12.

      A map prepared for the social-impact assessment illustrates the new hospital’s proximity to the Downtown Eastside. It draws a large bubble that indicates a 10-minute walk to the hospital from every direction. Almost the entire Downtown Eastside falls within this area.

      A map that describes walking distances to a proposed site for the relocation of St. Paul's Hospital suggests where staff and patients could place pressures on affordable housing.
      City of Vancouver

      In a telephone interview, CCAP coordinator Maria Wallstam said proximity will mean pressure on low-income housing.

      “You have some of the biggest and still affordable SRO [single-room occupancy] hotels right next to the hospital, like the Cobalt and the Ivanhoe,” she said. “All of the SROs in Chinatown are very close to the new hospital. So it is going to be a massive change.”

      Asked if it’s possible for St. Paul’s to move to False Creek Flats without acting as a force of gentrification on the Downtown Eastside, Wallstam responded: “I don’t think so.”

      “Gentrification is an economic process that is going to go ahead regardless of people’s hopes and fears about the development,” she explained.

      Wallstam said that although a degree of gentrification is very likely inevitable, there are measures the city can take to soften the blow. She suggested making more rooms available at the welfare shelter rate of $375 a month and drafting legal protections that prevent private-hotel operators from evicting existing occupants to renovate buildings with an eye on new tenants willing to pay higher rents.

      According to a May 2016 city report on low-income housing, the percentage of private SRO rooms renting at the welfare rate in Vancouver has decreased from 36 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, the number of nonmarket rooms in the Downtown Eastside has increased in recent years, but only by six percent from 2013 to 2015.

      Providence Health Care—the Catholic nonprofit organization that runs St. Paul's, Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, and various clinics, residences, and hospices in the Lower Mainland—referred questions to the City of Vancouver.

      Reached by phone, Kevin McNaney, a project director for the city, said work to protect low-income housing has been underway for years and will continue alongside the development of a new site for St. Paul’s.

      “The Downtown Eastside [Local Area] Plan is definitely our strongest plan in the city in terms of measures to protect SROs, to protect rental-housing stock, to build new social housing,” he maintained.

      McNaney noted new housing sites are planned for areas adjacent to False Creek Flats, including northeast and southeast False Creek. He also emphasized that the hospital will sit beside a SkyTrain station that connects to housing throughout the region. McNaney suggested that proximity to a major transit line will help alleviate pressures that the hospital will place on neighbouring communities.

      “It is very well located in terms of access to housing for all different levels of income,” he said.

      Ray Spaxman is a former planner for the City of Vancouver who served as a consultant on the city’s 2014 Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan. He told the Straight that moving St. Paul’s will bring benefits to the Downtown Eastside. He noted, for example, that many Downtown Eastside residents use St. Paul’s as their primary point of access for health care, and the move will bring the hospital closer to where they live.

      But Spaxman also suggested that what will be required to protect existing communities from the hospital’s negative impacts is a high degree of government involvement in related developments.

      “You have to deal with what I think might be called the current system of development, which is based on capitalist principles,” he explained. “The only way to do that is to get a balance with social principles. That means that government has to be part of the whole development process and ensure, through public resources, that accommodation is provided for those people who otherwise would not be able to afford it.”

      Spaxman questioned whether or not the city and the province are prepared to engage in the level of intervention that such a large development will require.

      “It will have considerable impacts on all the areas around it,” he said.

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