Hundreds of low-income residents vulnerable to gentrification caused by planned condo towers

Hundreds of low-income residents vulnerable to gentrification caused by planned condo towers
March 14, 2011

The Carnegie Community Action Project is concerned that the city’s plan to put at least 5 new towers on Main St. between Keefer and Union and 12 storey towers in the rest of  Chinatown except for Pender St. will gentrify the area, pushing out low income residents and the businesses they use.  CCAP is also concerned that no one seems to be talking about the impact of gentrification on over 1000 Chinatown residents who have low incomes.

Chinatown is one of the 8 sub areas that make up the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver as shown in this map from the City of Vancouver:

How many Chinatown residents have low incomes?
CCAP uses the federal low income before tax measure used by Statistics Canada to define low income.  This amount is about $22,000 per year for a single person, $28,000 for a two person family, and $34,000 for a three person family.*

The Carnegie Community Action Project has gathered income data from two sources to show how many Chinatown residents have low incomes.  From the City’s (2009) survey of low income housing in the Downtown Eastside, we find:

Social housing in Chinatown:

CBA Manor:  44 units
Lore Krill co-op:  97 units, at least 139 people
Dart Coon Club:  34 units
London Hotel:  70 rooms
Solheim Place:  86 units, a least 112 people

Approximate total:  399 residents

Social housing near Chinatown: 

Maclean Park extension: 300 units
Chau Luen Tower: 82 units
China Villa:  50 units 
JC Leman Native Housing:  98 units
Arco Hotel: 64

Approximate total:  594

While not everyone in these buildings is living with a low income, probably most of them are.

SRO’s in Chinatown 
West Hotel:  96 rooms
221 E Georgia:  14  rooms
Arno Hotel:  34 rooms
Lung Jen Benevolent:  4 rooms
Pacific:  30 rooms
Creekside Student Residence:  22 rooms
New Sun Ah:  43 rooms
Asia:  35 rooms
May Wah Hotel:  105  rooms
Chinese Freemasons:  3 rooms
Keefer rooms:  45 rooms
Ying Ping Benevolent: 14
228 E. Pender:  23
628 Main:  7 units

Approximate total:  475

Probably the vast majority, if not all, of the people living in these SROs have low incomes.


Other privately owned buildings that used to be SROs but have been converted to dwelling units and mostly house lower income people include the East Hotel and Fan Tower which have many residents between them.

Nearby hotels

In addition, the following hotels immediately south of the proposed tower area have SROs that will be vulnerable to rent increases as gentrification from the towers proceeds:

Cobalt Hotel, 98 rooms
Thornton Park Hotel, 22 rooms
Station Hotel, 32 rooms
Ivanhoe Hotel, 95 rooms

Approximate total:  247 rooms

Approximate grand total of low income residents in or near Chinatown:  1715
(Not including Fan Tower and East Hotel.)

The 2006 census report (the latest available) also says that Chinatown has a high per centage of low income people.  Over 64 percent of people in a census tract roughly similar to Chinatown have low incomes (see table).

These census figures probably don’t include aThese census figures probably don’t include about 700 homeless people who also live in the DTES and would have very low incomes, making the percentage of low income people in the area higher than shown.

Why is it significant that people in Chinatown have low incomes?

All over the world new development in cities is pushing out low income residents and destroying the communities they have built.  The Chinatown part of the Downtown Eastside is no exception.  As Blomley, Ley, and Wyly wrote in the Vancouver Sun (Feb. 2, 2011): 

“When a new residential structure (like a highrise) is built in an old neighbourhood it has spillover effects on adjacent city blocks.  It encourages further construction nearby, because most developers make decisions by imitating others.  One new investment significantly increases the probability of a second nearby, and then a third, in a land market like Vancouver’s with high levels of demand.  Pretty soon, the poor are priced out.  This pattern has been documented in dozens of gentrifying neighbourhoods in Canada and beyond in the past 30 years.  The preservation of low-cost housing in the Downtown Eastside matters because it is the only surviving concentration of affordable housing for poor residents in the city.  As property prices inflated by large developers and investors exceed the purchasing power of local buyers and renters, it becomes all the more urgent that existing stocks of affordable housing be safeguarded.”

Many Chinatown residents live in SROs or other privately owned buildings with fairly low rents. If rents go up because of the gentrifying impact of condo towers in Chinatown, low income people could be forced to move.  But with Chinatown rooms being some of the cheapest in the city, there will be no place for them to go.  They could become homeless.  In addition, low income residents won’t be able to afford to shop at new, gentrifying businesses catering to richer condo residents.
There is no evidence that low income Chinatown residents have been informed about the impact of gentrification or had any say in the consensus that some Chinatown groups have come to about wanting more towers on Main St.

These residents could be greatly affected by gentrification generated by more towers on Main St. if the city agrees to go ahead with its Condo Tower plan for 12 and 15 storey towers.

*Source: Statistical Analysis of Canada’s ‘Poorest Postal Code’,
Prepared for the Carnegie Community Action Project by Hannah Spalding, Sept., 2008

Myths about the city’s plan to allow 12 and 15 story condo towers in Chinatown

Myth:  Rent from subsidized rental units in Chinese Society buildings can be used to “provide the Societies with funding for their programming and assure their financial stability and cultural relevance.”  (from Vancouver Chinatown Revitalization Committee letter to Council)

Fact:  Subsidized housing units don’t make a profit.

Myth:  Money from Community Amenity Contributions made by tower developers will be a substantial help to Societies who want to renovate their housing and for other uses in Chinatown.

Fact:  The community doesn’t know how much revenue the Community Amenity Contributions could be.  If Council agrees to the staff recommendations, developers will be allowed to “land” density from all over the city into Chinatown.  When this happens, the “landing of density” will be considered the amenity and reduce what is available for housing and other uses.

Myth:  All of Chinatown is behind the proposed zoning and policy changes. 

Fact:  Over 1700 low income residents live in or near Chinatown.  Many of them say they have not been consulted about the rezoning and policy changes.  They oppose the condo towers because of the ripple effects of higher rents for SROs, apartments and businesses they use.

Myth:  Adding condo towers will help “revitalize” Chinatown.

Fact: The Director of Planning told a meeting at the Landmark Hotel in January that he didn’t know if this would happen; that other factors were involved.