It didn’t make the news, but on May 7th the Vancouver Development Permit Board received an application for yet another condo tower in the Downtown Eastside. The 10-storey, 90+ feet tower on the north-west corner of Main and Keefer (189 Keefer), was presented by its architect, Foad Raffi. For those of us paying attention, Raffi is the Development Permit Board advisory member who was the most outspoken media critic of we opponents of the Pantages condo project just two weeks before his project appeared before the same board. The architect and developer could not get any civilian supporters out to speak in favor of the tower, so everyone who spoke from the public was against. (NOTE: The exception to the media blackout was the great story in The Mainlander)
The Carnegie Community Action Project presented a technical argument outlining how the proposal violates city policy. The DTES Neighbourhood Council criticized it for threatening to displace SRO hotel residents within a block of the project. And the DTES Not for Developers Coalition protested the city process that pushes through condos without any meaningful process of consultation, oversight, or control by those who stand to be most terribly impacted. See the coalition statement, “Better neighbourhood, same neighbours,” below.
The DTES low-income community member formerly known as Homeless Dave was one of the last speakers before the board voted unanimously in favor of the project. After challenging Foad Raffi for not declaring his conflict of interest, even as a point of information, H. Dave asked the board whether they had ever turned a project down. They excitedly perked up for a moment but then deflated, trying to remember which they had turned down just last year.
Dave declared that the board should be renamed the Vancouver Development Approval Board, and offered the suggestion that their new alienating hearing chambers could be decorated with a great fountain the shape of a rubber stamp.
Read the coalition statement against the condo project at 189 Keefer here:
Better neighbourhood, same neighbours
Downtown Eastside Not for Developers statement against the condo development proposal for 189 Keefer St
We are asking that the city of Vancouver Development Permit Board refuse the Development Permit application for a 10-storey condo tower at 189 Keefer Street. This condo proposal threatens existing residents with displacement by gentrification pressures. Condos at189 Keefer violate city policies that are meant to protect the low-income community. Its central tenets, “economic revitalization” and “affordable home ownership,” rest on and enforce the myth that the Vancouver housing crisis can be abated through the sacrifice of lower-income people’s housing in the Downtown Eastside (DTES).
The DTES Not for Developers Coalition is made up of nine DTES and ally organizations that came together last year to organize against the proposed, and now approved, condo project at the Pantages Theatre site. Since we began organizing around this one condo project – which we feared would be the first of many – there have indeed been many more. There are now more than 588 condo units proposed or approved and awaiting construction in the DTES. We are facing a condo invasion in the Downtown Eastside, and we believe the city must act to stop this invasion from displacing the most vulnerable residents.
Our community’s experience, since Woodward’s, has been that every new condo unit built represents a cultural and housing market change in the DTES that is harmful to the existing low-income communities. We call this harm gentrification, the process that is transforming the city’s only specifically low-income neighbourhood into a place that is hostile to low-income people. Through gentrification the Downtown Eastside is becoming a place where higher income property owners, restaurant goers, and consumers belong and low-income people don’t. Condos at 189 Keefer cannot be considered apart from other neighbourhood-changing forces in the immediate area, like the “alley revitalization” project planned to the west of this site, the 17-storey condo rezoning proposal immediately across the street, and the policies which are failing to protect low-income housing from being lost to rent increases.
The DTES Housing Plan says that there are more than 500 SRO hotel units in the Chinatown district. More than 200 market low-income housing units are within a block of 189 Keefer. There are no city or provincial policies in place to stop the loss of these housing units to rent increases. As property values and taxes increase, and as real estate speculators deepen their interest in the neighbourhood, the situation can only be expected to worsen. The Housing Plan says that city policy is in place to ensure that economic revitalization does not come at the cost of low-income displacement.
We are also concerned about the loss of public and storefront spaces that are welcoming and comfortable for low-income community members. Many of the shops and green grocers in Chinatown have already been lost to changing consumer climates and increased rents as shops seek a higher income clientele. Those who have survived are vulnerable to market pressures brought by condos like 189 Keefer.
The condo proposal at 189 Keefer offers nothing to the existing low-income community except displacement. It offers 81 condo units and zero units of social housing or even rental housing. It offers zero community benefit to offset the impact of the project on the existing community.
The city-process of deciding on this project, the rubber-stamping Development Permit Board, is an insult to injury for the low-income community. The Development Permit board presides over the future of the DTES low-income community as an all-white jury. Not only are there no low-income, working-class, or Aboriginal representatives on the advisory or board or even identifiable racialized people on the voting board, the board is stacked with people who are heavily financially invested in the Vancouver development industry. Many members directly profit from increased real estate prices in the Downtown Eastside because they own investment properties or businesses in DTES development industries. For example, the architect of 189 Keefer is Development Permit board advisory member Foad Rafii, who spoke out so energetically against community members who protested the recent and neighbouring Pantages condos proposal. Even if he does not vote on this project proposal, his influence risks colouring the conditional decision of the board.
The Development Permit Board should turn down this proposal until housing and other critical spaces and services for low-income community members can be protected and guaranteed and until the housing plan’s mandate for enough self-contained, resident-controlled social housing has been built so that no body has to sleep in the streets, shelters, or unsafe and unhealthy SRO hotel rooms. We want a better neighbourhood, but not at the cost of a single person lost to the violence of gentrification and displacement.
Downtown Eastside Not for Developers Coalition
Aboriginal Front Door
Carnegie Community Action Project
Citywide Housing Coalition
DTES Neighbourhood Council
DTES Power of Women Group
Streams of Justice
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society