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Downtown Eastside plan puts 80 per cent of $1-billion total investment into housing

March 6th, 2014 · 117 Comments

There is a lot of meat to pick over in the city’s Downtown Eastside plan, even though lots and lots of details are still missing.

Last week, we got the quick overview: $1-billion to go into the area overall over the next 30 years, diversity of housing, protection of community businesses and services aimed at low-income people, gradual increase of more market ownership and rental housing etc etc.

In my second go-round, one aspect I looked at was the amount of money going into housing: $800 million overall, and, from the $300-million in fees charged for new developments, $250 million to housing.

Vision’s critics on the left keep making the point that Vision has done nothing to create affordable housing, because they don’t like the incentives given to developers for rental projects that are then rented out at market rates. But those on the right (and even some insiders at city hall) are uncomfortable with the kind of money that Vision has thrown into housing — far more than any previous council, when you look what proportion of developer fees have gone into the housing fund and the money spent on buying hotels (Ramadas on Kingsway and Hastings), providing upgrading money for properties leased by BC Housing (the Biltmore), and land given over to non-profits to develop affordable housing projects ($22-million for the four sites currently being developed under the auspices of the B.C. Co-op Housing Federation).

The NPA and city manager Judy Rogers always resisted having the city get too financially involved in providing housing, saying the solution was to keep putting pressure on the provincial and federal governments. Vision has departed from that, which is a good thing or bad thing, depending on your point of view.

Vancouver’s plan for revitalizing the Downtown Eastside depends on collecting $300-million in fees from developers over 30 years, with most of it going toward social housing, in exchange for rezoning land to accommodate bigger buildings with more units.

It’s the city’s most dramatic departure to date of its long-time policy of using developer fees for a wide array of public amenities, from parks and daycares to bike lanes and greenways.

Instead, the Downtown Eastside plan pegs the vast majority of the fees collected in the area to social housing, with only $50-million left over to cover community facilities for the additional residents.

The fees from the Downtown Eastside plan represent 50 per cent more than the city is getting from the massive Oakridge development at 41st and Cambie, with its 2,900 apartments and huge mall. The Oakridge developer fees will be used for some subsidized housing, but also a huge park, a large new community centre, a daycare and a library.

“We recognize this is a different apportionment,” said Brian Jackson, the city’s general manager of planning. But, he said, the area needs it.

“It’s so different because all you have to do is look at the average income and the need to do things on an urgent basis to improve the quality of housing there.”

Non-Partisan Association Councillor George Affleck said Vision’s constant use of developer fees to create more housing on top of other new housing, instead of using it for the needed community services for the new residents, is a concern.

“I have major issues with taking traditional [developer fees] meant to deal with housing and using them for more housing.”

The plan says about $1-billion will come into the area altogether. Besides the developer fees, the city expects to contribute $200-million. Another $500-million is projected to come from provincial and federal governments.

In total, $800-million of that is expected to go toward subsidized housing.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and his ruling Vision Vancouver party have been aggressive about using those developer fees for social housing in single buildings. It’s the first time such a large proportion has gone to housing in an entire area.

Low-income people living in the neighbourhood say they believe the best investment is in social housing and that the plan, while not everything they hoped for, will help protect parts of the area from rampant development.

As it stands, most new market development is concentrated along Hastings corridor, Chinatown, Gastown and Kiwassa.

The proposed plan will limit development in a 12-block area around Oppenheimer Park and East Hastings to rentals only with 60 per cent at subsidized rates and 40 per cent at market rates.

That’s been a controversial move, with some in the development community saying it will perpetuate a ghetto and stall any possibility of creating a more mixed neighbourhood there.

But residents who’ve worked closely on the plan say that, while it will likely stall development, that’s a good thing.

“It’s a stopgap,” said Roland Clarke, a hotel-room resident who is on the executive of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council. “The city is doing what it can to prevent a lot of displacement. We know they are being bombarded by a lot of powerful interests with a lot of money … who want to be able to build in that district.”

Mr. Clarke said it looks to people in the neighbourhood as though that’s the city’s way of simply putting a moratorium on development in that district.

The city’s plan for the Downtown Eastside, one of many made by city councils over the decades, has generated a lot of commentary and confusion as the city attempts to tackle housing, poverty, the economy, green spaces and health in the neighbourhood. Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the province isn’t going to invest a lot of money into subsidized housing that concentrates poor people in the neighbourhood.

But city planners and politicians say the plan isn’t dependent on immediate cash infusions for subsidized housing. Instead, they say, the city plans to work with the private sector, non-profits and all levels of government to bring in money through whatever programs those groups and organizations are willing to contribute.


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