Developing Story: Directions emerge for Downtown Eastside

Economic development, transportation and 'aggressive' housing elemtents of plan

Affordable housing was the top concern among participants at an open house last week giving Vancouverites their first look at the early stages of the Downtown Eastside local area plan.

The event, at the Japanese Language School on Alexander Street last Thursday, was the first of two city events showcasing the plan which was released July 18.

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The plan deals with neighbourhoods in the area bordered by Clark Drive to the east, the industrial area and train tracks to the north and south, and Richards Street to the west. More than half of the areas residents are 45 or older. People in the Downtown Eastside have the lowest capita median income $13,691 per year, according to city statistics.

The local area plan has been under discussion for months with input from a committee among whose members include low income, Chinatown, Strathcona, and Gastown residents, as well as business association representatives.

The plan speaks to local economic development, housing, transportation, parks, public benefits all the same areas [as other community plans] but of course theres a focus on the affordable housing component, which is such an issue in this community, explained Kevin McNaney, the citys assistant director of planning. We have created an approach to housing in the area that is innovative and aggressive, but we believe achievable, so weve set some 10 year targets to complement our housing strategy that really focus on creating housing for the homeless as a top priority, fixing and replacing some of the SROs, building more social housing and encouraging the development of more market and non-market housing.

In particular, McNaney cited directions for the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District, which he called the heart of the area.

Were looking at creating essentially a rental housing district where at least 60 per cent of that is social housing or below market rent, he said.

In the Hastings corridor, he added, the city is looking at rezoning that would deliver 25 to 30 per cent affordable housing similar to the Wall project at 900 East Hastings, which delivered 20 per cent.

Remarks written on a comment board by visitors at the open house included: More affordable housing, New Development must be appropriate and welcoming to the existing low income and homeless folks already in the community, and No monster condos.

Harold Lavender, whos lived on East Georgia for a decade, called the plan evasive.

I basically believe the low-income community in Vancouver is in great threat and in danger of being kicked out of the community, he said, adding he opposes measures that would benefit the rich and developers.

Im here to say no to gentrification and yes to taxpayer-funded social housing and programs, Lavender said. City hall is run by people putting interests of developers first. [Theres] nice rhetoric in the plan, but its a question of whats actually going to happen and holding them accountable. [The Downtown Eastside] is totally vilified in many peoples minds. Theres lots of things that could be improved, but its a community with a life and a heart of its own.

Lavender, 62, survives on a disability pension of $906 a month and said others are in far worse situations. He wants a definition for social housing, which he insists must be defined at welfare and pension rates.

The plan is murky and unclear. What we want is clarity and clarity is what were denied, he said. Im not sure if the plan is a C or an F.

Colleen Boudreau, who represents sex workers, said she too is concerned about wording and also wants social housing to be defined based on the welfare rate.

Anne Kennedy said the city is on the right track but she worries about potential loopholes.

It all looks good on paper its just whether were able to achieve it or not, she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Edmund Ma whose family has a building in Chinatown.

Overall, everything seems to be moving in the right direction. But Im concerned some language is ambiguous and could be interpreted in different ways, he said.

Full details about the local area plan are on the city website. Feedback will be accepted on an online questionnaire until Aug. 16. McNaney expects the draft plan will be out in the fall.

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