One thousand Chinatown residents and shoppers for social housing, not condo towers
By Ivan Drury
In January city council voted to consider plans for Chinatown towers, while postponing extra height for condos in other parts of the DTES. They said the Chinatown towers were part of a long process that everyone in Chinatown agreed with.
Between the passing of the council motion on January 20th and the public hearing about the Chinatown heights increase on March 17th the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council organized a petition drive to find out how many residents of Chinatown were consulted about the heights increase plan and what they thought about it.
We set up tables eight times, distributed information, hung signs and banners, and gave out coffee under a tent in the rain. We petitioned in front of the Chinese Cultural Centre, across from Bob Rennie’s private art gallery in one of the oldest buildings in the city. We petitioned at Main and Keefer across from one of the proposed 15 story condo tower sites, pointing out the abandoned storefronts, emptied out by the speculation of the owner, waiting for the heights increase for permission to build condos. We petitioned under the awning at Keefer and Gore, amongst the cheap grocery stores, talking with bargain shoppers.
The number of people we met while petitioning who remembered being consulted about the heights increase proposal in Chinatown? None. And although not everyone signed our petition, we never met a resident who said they wanted towers.
DNC organizers knocked on every door we could get access to with our petitions in every building in Chinatown. Some buildings that we could not get into, either because of time (like the massive McLean Projects just outside of Chinatown) or because of management restrictions, like the May Wah Hotel, we still distributed materials to residents’ mailboxes or quickly slid bilingual brochures under their doors.
The number of people we met who remembered having someone ask them what they thought about encouraging condo development in Chinatown? None.
The DNC also organized, in partnership with housing co-ops and social housing projects, and with Chinese seniors outreach workers, a series of community meetings to make presentations and have discussions about the heights increase plan.
The first meeting, at the Lore Krill housing coop, resulted in the formation of a Chinatown Residents’ Committee and 54 Lore Krill members signed a statement as a group to oppose the condo heights plan. Lore Krill residents were especially concerned about the effect of more middle-class people in the area on the self-esteem of lower income kids, and that a gentrification cultural shift could mean less safety for Chinese senior women. They talked about the drunken and disrespectful crowds that have started to gather outside the London Pub as an example.
The meetings at the Antoinette Lodge, the Chinese Freemasons’ seniors housing project, and at the three former DERA buildings brought large groups of Chinese seniors together to discuss what they love about their lives in Chinatown. The living heritage of Chinatown shone through these seniors’ thoughts and experiences. They said that Chinatown is important to them because they can be independent here; they can afford to live here and to shop here. It is also important because they can speak their own languages on the streets and in the stores so they feel safe and comfortable in their community. Development, they said, should protect the living Chinese community in Chinatown. That means ensuring the neighbourhood stays affordable in housing and shopping.
The results of our petition drive overall
More than 1,000 Vancouver residents signed the petition overall. Of these, 250 said they are Chinatown residents, and 631 said they are Downtown Eastside residents. See the full petition here
No one we contacted in the buildings said they wanted condo towers in the area. The DNC collected the following amounts of signatures against towers and for social housing:
• New Sun Ah Hotel: 14 residents
• The West Hotel: 21 residents
• Lore Krill Housing Coop: 54 residents
• 27 W. Pender: 27 residents
• London Hotel: 20 residents
• Pacific Rooms: 12 residents
• Solheim Place: 14 Residents
• Asia Hotel: 14 residents
After our petition drive, two things became clear:
First, while there were meetings in Chinatown about a Chinatown plan, it is clear from our work that hundreds of Chinatown residents were not consulted and do not approve of adding height for condos.
Second: Chinatown residents are overwhelmingly against the plan to raise condo tower heights in Chinatown without first guaranteeing the security of their housing, food, businesses, and sense of community that includes affordability, language rights, and low-income, family and seniors services.