A pioneering model of development went before Vancouver city council Tuesday night, as the developer made his case for a Downtown Eastside condo complex that would include industrial space and social housing.
Wall Financial, which built the 48-storey Wall Centre in downtown Vancouver, has proposed building a complex with three towers along a rundown, light industrial corridor of East Hastings Street, six blocks east of Main – but with a twist.
“It’s fairly unique,” said company president Bruno Wall. “The intent is to preserve the industrial land base and combine it with the residential above. It is the opportunity to deliver affordable housing, market housing and light-industrial land use.”
The city’s planning department has recommended approving the proposal, which attracted so many speakers Tuesday that the public hearing will be continued Thursday night.
The project would include 282 market rate condos, 70 units of social housing, and over 64,000 square feet of industrial space – with the developer footing the bill for nearly all of it and then handing over the keys to the social-housing units to the city.
Under the proposal, Wall would contribute over 90 per cent of the $10.7 million required to build the non-market units. The city would have to come up with the last million.
The developer has also offered an additional $3.4 million towards parks, childcare, roads, and public art, as part of the city’s requirement that developers contribute to upgrading city services as they draw new residents to neighbourhoods.
Community concerned about impact of gentrification
Wall, asked about what motivated the decision to cover the cost of social-housing housing units in its project plan, said that city staff recommended it.
But the deal, which appears to provide a solution for how to create more social housing in the city, will only produce about 24 units rented at rates affordable to people on welfare. Another 24 will be rented out with a shallow subsidy, affordable to people working at minimum-wage-level jobs.
That has some community groups fearful that gentrification of the area will displace low-income families.
Jean Swanson, a co-ordinator of Carnegie Community Action Project, said, “We’re afraid the project will do to the east end of Hastings what Woodward’s did to the west end of Hastings, which was gentrify it so that low-income people can’t afford to live or shop here.” She added that Woodward’s, a massive redevelopment of a former department store, included 20 per cent of housing at welfare rates. With this project, only about seven per cent of the units will ultimately be rented at welfare rates, which bottom out at $375 for singles.
Worse, she said, is the risk that the ripple effects of gentrification will encourage renovation of nearby residential hotels and force out residents in those hotels as rents rise.
“The new place would have 24 nice, new units at welfare rates, but probably more than 24 people would have to be evicted from [neighbouring] hotels because of rising rents.”
New industrial zoning type borrows from San Francisco experience
Wall also elaborated on the other unique feature of the development: the inclusion of a new zoning type called PDR (for production, distribution and repair) that protects the existing light-industry uses, things like clothing and food manufacturing, digital printing, and wholesaling, which service local businesses like restaurants, offices and manufacturers.
The site currently houses a series of one-storey buildings that include, among others, a packing box manufacturer and retailer; a millwork shop; and a furniture and lighting design studio.
Project architect Stu Lyon said that the city is emulating San Francisco, which spent eight years developing a strategy for implementing PDR and rolled it out to a large swath known as the eastern neighbourhoods in 2008.
Tony Kelly, President of Petreroboosters, a housing advocacy group in the eastern neighbourhoods, said he believes that PDR zoning has benefited the community by keeping property values and rents affordable for light industry in the face of a recent housing boom, while holding would-be residential developers at bay.
The changes have preserved some industrial land; however, it has not been without a cost as the city replaced what was extremely unrestrictive, industrial zoning with a mix of PDR and urban mixed use, which included residential.
“[Before,] if I wanted to buy an auto shop and turn it into a dynamite factory, I could,” Kelly said. Now the preserved industrial uses are balanced against housing supply and affordability concerns.