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Here comes the neighbourhood: New social housing and rezoning for DTES

A social housing building championed by a non-profit, a new home for United We Can, and the continued super-sizing of the Downtown Eastside.

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According to the actual policy report linked above, these studios would rent from $952 per month, while the junior one-bedrooms would rent for $1,680 per month. (And, yes, couples in NYC share apartments that size all the time, though the relationships do not always survive.)

You can find cheaper rentals in the neighbourhood, though those units will also be small by Vancouver standards. Larger, and far pricier, rental units can be found even more easily.

Abbott confirmed that all of the apartments will be similar, in that the market-rate apartments will not have different footprints than the social and supportive housing units. She said that the rental units would be cheaper than many other Gastown apartments in that they're smaller, but did not describe them as anything other than market-rate units.

(To clarify, Atira Development Society is not to be confused with Atira Property Management; both are wholly owned by Atira Women's Resource Society, but the latter is a for-profit venture whose profits get donated to the parent entity.)

So while Robertson is calling this a win for his team, Vancouver isn't exactly a city famous for saying "no" to development. This is not the first time Vision Vancouver has played word games with the concept of affordable housing.

So we have a new building that's also a microcosm of the neighbourhood in which it will stand: the city's most vulnerable rubbing shoulders with those who can afford $1,600 a month in rent.

Every rose has its thorn

There's no such thing as a development project with universal support, since the stakeholders are so diverse. Peter Fry, chair of the Strathcona Residents' Association, said, "While affordable and shelter rate housing are laudable and desirable, and underwriting them with market rentals makes sense, I worry that the effect of the upzoning and scale will lead to land lift and overdevelopment of the area, erosion of heritage and sustainable communities.

"What concerns me most is the height and density — both the building height and FSR are precedent-setting, and may well signal the future of the DEOD [Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District] sub-area 1, which while referred to by the planners as 'Hastings + Main', actually extends from Abbott to Heatley along Hastings."

This is DEOD sub-area 1:


Fry called out City Hall for "arbitrarily designating this zoning district, which doesn’t reflect the lived experience" of the people who live there. How could it? That zone encompasses four different neighbourhoods, extending from Gastown  and the DTES to Chinatown, and into Strathcona.

When you change the height restrictions in your 'hood, you open a door through which anyone else can slip. Your project is socially-minded, but the next one might not be.

Fry said, "In fact, this sort of 60%-40% with 12 stories and 8 FSR split is exactly what the City proposed in the "Emerging Directions" for its Local Area Plan for the DTES. To put that into perspective the tallest buildings right now are around 6 stories." (FSR stands for "floor space ratio", which is the ratio of the building's total floor area to the area on which the building stands.)

Said Fry, "It's difficult to speak against the proposal for the reason that it is providing much needed shelter rate and supportive housing, although - I note that 70% of the housing in this development (including the supportive HILs housing) will be rents starting at $845 for a studio. That said, any replacement of substandard SRO housing with self contained units at shelter rate is a good thing."

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