Sophie Fung: Development permit board has a duty to vote for community's desires in Chinatown

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      By Sophie Fung

      In the 105 Keefer decision, the city’s development permit board must serve the public’s interest over the interests of developers.

      Now that Beedie Living’s 105 Keefer development application for a nine-story condo building is headed to the City of Vancouver’s development permit board for review on Monday (October 30), its members, comprised of public servants, must vote in favour of the community’s desires—even if the development application fits existing zoning requirements. Here’s why:

      1. The 105 Keefer project proposal, in all of its past iterations, has never been wanted in Chinatown. Since the beginning, Beedie Living’s rezoning and development applications have received dismal support from the community. Four years ago, an underwhelming 14 percent of commenters supported the project. The community’s rejection of the project peaked at the rezoning public hearing in May of this year. A record-breaking 196 speakers presented their views to council. Seventy-seven percent of the speakers opposed the rezoning application. The public hearing also brought out MP Jenny Kwan and MLA George Chow; both echoed the concerns of their constituents in opposing the project. In an open letter, MP Kwan wrote, “the allocation of only 25 low-income seniors housing units, in a community where there is a desperate need for safe secure affordable for low-income individuals, is woefully inadequate.”

      2. In the latest show of opposition, council’s own member-appointed Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee voted down Beedie Living’s development submission for the condo building, citing the absence of seniors housing and a lack of meaningful public engagement.

      3. Moreover, Beedie Living’s most recent proposal for 111 units of market housing is not needed in the community. Chinatown needs social housing with rents that match welfare rates. My own graduate research revealed that at least 14 Chinese Family and Clan Association nonprofit housing buildings in the neighbourhood have wait lists. Units in these buildings are in high demand because they are affordable and offer a sense of belonging. Interviews with seniors revealed that living with their neighbours who share a common language and culture creates rich and deep social connections.

      4. Poor seniors living on income assistance cannot afford market rates. My research also found that on average, rent for a studio unit was approximately $380 (a rate nearly tied to 30 percent of monthly Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement payments). In contrast, rent for a similar-sized home in the BlueSky building on183 East Georgia Street costs $1,595 a month. As development pressures continue to mount in Chinatown, existing affordable housing buildings may be converted into market housing.

      5. Furthermore, should this development application go through, Beedie Living will further gentrify Chinatown (median income in the area increased more than $14,000 since 2005). This will cause displacement of marginalized groups like Chinese elders who need to continue living in the community for a high quality of life, while prohibiting others with similar economic challenges from living in the neighbourhood at all.

      The concerns of residents and their supporters remain unaddressed. Of the 943 comments submitted to the city regarding the 105 Keefer rezoning application, the top three issues included: the need for more seniors housing, concerns about gentrification, and concerns about development on the culturally significant site. None of the community’s comments have been acknowledged in the development application submission.

      The community’s hopes for the neighbourhood continues to be lost on Beedie Living, council, and city staff. While residents who will be most impacted by the building have created the People’s Vision, a strategy for social and economic development centred around the needs of Chinatown’s residents, staff are reviewing the placement of bike racks and loading zones.

      If nearly four years of consistent community opposition is ignored by the development permit board members, is there space for residents, particularly marginalized groups, to shape their city?

      The decision is clear. The development permit board, as the arbiter of 105 Keefer, can restore the balance between the voices of community over the roars of the development industry. To vote down the development application would demonstrate that city hall is ready to engage in meaningful planning, participatory democracy, and city-building alongside community. 

      Sophie Fung is an organizer with the Chinatown Action Group. She holds a master's degree in urban studies from Simon Fraser University.

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