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Suzanne Anton: “Vision gets it completely wrong with Broadway social housing decision”

July 26th, 2010 · 13 Comments

I invited Suzanne Anton to write this commentary piece for my blog about the recent council decision on the social housing project at Broadway and Fraser. As previous news reports have noted, Vision councillors voted to approve this project but on the condition that the 11-storey tower be reduced to eight storeys.

Since the non-profit building this, Broadway Youth Resources Centre, say they have no money for a redesign, it appears that the one optional part of the project, the 24 rental units that were supposed to be part of it along with 103 social-housing units, may be what’s sacrificed.

This is Councillor Anton’s assessment.

The city-owned property at Fraser and Broadway is one of the most spectacular in the City’s entire portfolio.  There’s a breathtaking view to the north, and the 99 B-line stops right in front of the building every couple of minutes.  Excellent public transportation, a major intersection, and a large piece of land: just the right combination for a signature building.

The property has been designated for social housing for some time.  The proposal, which came to public hearing at Council, was for an 11-storey building with eight floors (103 units) of social housing; three floors (24 units) of modest market housing; retail on Broadway and a new space for the Broadway Youth Resource Centre.

Neighbours were concerned with the height and the number of social housing units.

When it came to the vote, Council got it completely wrong.  The Vision councillors cut off the three rental floors, then added the qualifier:  ‘If you can  re-make the building to add rental, go ahead, but only within the eight-storey envelope.’

This was a false hope, and Council knew it.  Why?  Because  BC Housing has no more money to redesign the building and the housing provider, Vancouver Native Housing Society, won’t be able to do it on their own.

Here’s the really unfortunate part.  Rentals on the market housing units would have helped pay for the rest of the building.  Fifty or 60 people of modest means would have been able to live in a dream residence with a million dollar view.  And they wouldn’t need cars to get around with Vancouver’s best transportation service at their front door.

Yes, the building would be higher than others in the neighbourhood, but the street would be rezoned around it.  A signature site would – and should –  have a signature building.

Best of all, the rental units would be publicly owned.  Council, through STIR (Short Term Incentives for Rentals) is giving City resources to  high end privately-owned rental units, but they have turned down an opportunity to create more modest, publicly-owned units.  Their priorities are completely backwards.

Given that Council seems to be contemplating a 21-storey building on a quiet block in the West End, blocks away from public transit, doesn’t it make sense to approve an 11-storey building on one of the city’s biggest streets?

Council is sensitive to accusations that they don’t care what the public thinks.  But was this really the right issue on which to ‘prove’ that they are indeed listening?

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