Jan. 25, 2016
City’s revitalization plan aims to attract more economic activity in neighbourhood
Dozens of seniors and community activists from Vancouver’s Chinatown poured into city hall on Monday afternoon to speak out against a proposed 12-storey mixed-use development in the centre of the historic neighbourhood.
The protesters gathered at 2:30 p.m. PT, prior to a development permit board meeting about Wall Financial’s project at 288 East Hastings St., which would comprise 172 housing units — 104 of them social housing.
But those opposed say only 35 of the social housing units will be offered at $400 or less, the only rates truly affordable to the area’s residents — many of them low-income Chinese seniors.
“People often forget that Chinese seniors are a big part of the Downtown Eastside community,” said Chanel Ly, an outreach worker and member of the Youth for Chinese Seniors project.
Ly said new developments like the one being proposed displace the neighbourhood’s longtime shops and services, which serve older Chinese clientele. She said many of the seniors in Chinatown are lacking socially appropriate services.
Revitalization plan in place
The city does have a revitalization plan in place for Chinatown, which it says includes fostering economic growth while preserving the historic neighbourhood’s cultural significance.
The plan includes funding to preserve some of the historic buildings in the area.
But Carnegie Community Action Plan activist King-mong Chan said preservation needs more than money for buildings.
“The mayor cannot with one hand establish a fund to rehabilitate these buildings, while with the other create and approve policies and development applications that approve the market housing that breaks apart the community,” he said.
Chan said there hasn’t been any additional consultation with the community since the plan was put in place half a year ago.
“Without such an assessment, the city should not be approving any further projects that affect Chinatown,” he said.
Harold Lavender, also with the Carnegie Community Action Plan, said Chinatown is one of the few remaining affordable neighbourhoods in the city. He said many of the area’s residents rely on the low prices there, especially with food costs increasing weekly.
“I feel a great loss when those shops disappear. The pace of change just seems to be getting faster and faster,” he said.
“This project will raise the rents, it will lead to more stores disappearing, it will change the character of the neighbourhood forever.”
Lee Loy, which has sold barbecue meats in Chinatown for more than 20 years, will close next month because the building has been sold to Wall Financial Corp.
Photograph by: Arlen Redekop , Vancouver Sun
VANCOUVER – Seniors in Chinatown will speak out this afternoon against a proposed 12-storey tower by the Wall Financial Corp., saying the development application has already started to change the face of their community.
Members of the Chinatown Concern Group say the application, at 288 East Hastings, has already displaced seven retailers including a BBQ meat shop, barber shop, bakery, and herbal store. Most of these retailers have left from the neighbourhood.
“Chinatown is not only important for historic reasons but because this is where the community and I buy food, access services and build community.
If Chinatown continues to be paved over by new buildings, where will I go for my basic needs as I age in the neighbourhood?” longtime resident Ivy Su said in a news release.
The seniors, along with members of the Carnegie Community Action Project, Youth for Chinese Seniors, and Chinatown Action Group, will voice their opposition ahead of a development permit board meeting at Vancouver City Hall. They argue the proposed development will also only have 34 units of affordable social housing.
“Definitely concerned about the marginalization of Chinese people in Chinatown, this hollowing out as some people call it.”
Activists fighting to preserve Vancouver’s historic Chinatown say they are frustrated and disappointed, after the City of Vancouver approved a contentious condo development at East Hastings and Gore.
Right now, it’s a string of single storey retail shops catering to the Chinese population, but soon they will be replaced by a 12-storey tower, approved today by the City’s Development Permit Board.
Current state of 288 East Hastings
King-mong Chan with the Chinatown Concern Group is worried more mom and pop shops will be pushed out.
“Now we are seeing less and less shops [they’re] closing down and this revitalization of Chinatown seems to target the Chinese businesses that are having to be displaced, or sold to developers and evicted. The changes happening in Chinatown I don’t think is really benefiting the residents that much at all.”
Andrea Lun, whose great grandfather was one of nine families who built Chinatown, says new condo developments threaten the culture of the historic neighbourhood.
“Why I’m objecting is, people don’t realize the history of Chinatown, and what is living within the people who are being so adversely impacted.”
— Shelby Thom (@ShelbyThom980) January 26, 2016
The city says the completed project will be 40% market rental and 60% social housing.
104 units will be below-market housing rates, including 35 units renting at $375/month, with the rest capped at $912/month.
Lun says while she’s grateful the tower will be rental housing, she fears many won’t be able to afford living there.
But Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has issued a statement applauding the decision, which he says “strikes a balance.”
It’s the first development approved since the city passed its Downtown Eastside Community plan in 2014 which put a target of 60% social housing for any new project in the Oppenheimer District of the DTES.
However, the plan was harshly criticized at the time for what some called a watering down of the definition of social housing.
Vancouver’s Development Permit Board has approved a controversial 12-storey condo at 288 East Hastings.
Wall Financial Corporation will now move forward with plans to construct a mixed-use building with a total of 172 units- 60 per cent (104 units) social housing and 40 per cent (68 units) secured market rental.
“It’s great to see this project move forward, bringing new affordable housing into the heart of the Downtown Eastside,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson.
“The 60/40 zoning was a key policy that council implemented to reduce land speculation in the Downtown Eastside, and to ensure that new housing projects strike a balance.”
But concerned Chinese seniors and community supporters flooded City Hall Monday, voicing their opposition to the project.
King-mong Chan with the Chinatown Concern Group says the city’s definition of social housing is not actually affordable to the residents of the area.
“While we’re seeing over 1000 units of un-affordable housing in Chinatown, we’re only seeing about 50 units of genuinely affordable social housing.”
“The panel talked about how they shared the same concerns and then on the other hand they approved the project. They thought that would continue to protect Chinatown where in fact I don’t think it does. The displaced retailers, there’s no guarantee they’ll come back and the neighborhood will already be changed by what’s happening.”
Chan says seven small businesses have already been displaced from the building, including a BBQ meat shop, barber shop, bakery, and herbal store.
The Chinatown Concern Group is demanding 100 per cent affordable housing and retail services that meet the needs of low-income residents and the Chinese community.
Final approval for a new apartment complex on East Hastings and Gore will be deliberated at City Hall tomorrow, and community groups say it’s another domino falling in the changing landscape of Vancouver’s Chinatown.
It’s a 12-storey complex with roughly 170 units of housing.
But King-mong Chan with the Chinatown Concern Group says only 20% of it is affordable social housing.
“People just can’t afford that kind of market housing being built at that site.”
Seeing seven independent businesses close to clear a path for the development also has him worried about the culture of the neighbourhood he grew up in.
“What does it mean to be Chinese? Chinatown is a place of discovery, but if we lose it, we won’t be learning what it means to be Chinese.”
“Less people are going to be able to go because we’re just going to continue to see this changing Chinatown that fits a new and different clientele.”
He says seeing new developments planned for Chinatown violates the sanctity of the community.
“There’s something important about these heritage sites, and for the community that lives there. This place is some place that is accessible to them in terms of affordability and also culture and linguistics, and it’s being changed, torn and broken apart by the new developments that are coming into the area.”
Chan says he and his group will appear before the Development Permit Board tomorrow to oppose the project.
He’s looking for a guarantee of one hundred per cent affordable housing and new ways to revive Chinatown and preserve its heritage.