Low-income Chinatown residents unite against the towers

News Release
For Immediate Release
March 14, 2011

Low income community unites against condo towers in Chinatown

A newly formed Chinatown residents group is announcing today that it doesn’t want the city to allow higher buildings in Chinatown.  In addition, 25 Chinatown business owners have signed a petition opposing the towers.

On March 17 the city plans to hear delegations on rezoning and policy proposals that could allow 12 and 15 story condo towers in south Chinatown.

Council will decide on the towers after a public hearing that begins on Thurs. March 17th at 7:30 pm at City Hall.

People opposed to the towers include seniors, small business operators, SRO and social housing residents and others.  Most oppose the increased heights because of the impact it will have on increasing rents and taxes for hotels and stores, driving out low income people and the businesses that serve them.

Jean Swanson, co-ordinator of the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), introduced a report about the demographics of Chinatown and the potential social impacts of the city's proposed heights increases. She explained, "Almost 1000 low income people live in privately owned SROs and in social housing in Chinatown.  At least 1700 low income people live in and close to Chinatown.  But Chinatown also offers important services to hundreds, if not thousands, of low-income Chinese seniors and others who live all around Vancouver and bus to Chinatown every day to shop for fresh produce and Chinese herbs and foods.”

Chinese seniors at several meetings organized by the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council in their buildings said repeatedly that they want and need to continue to live in Chinatown. “Our kids are too busy with their own lives so we have to be able to do everything for ourselves.  We have to be independent and living in Chinatown helps us live independently,” said one woman who lives in Pendera Place social housing.  “The prices and language in Chinatown grocery stores are the reasons I can eat healthy food every day.  I compare prices between all the stores every day and always get the best deals,” said another who lives in the Chinese Freemason's senior's housing building on Prior Street.  Other Chinatown residents told the DNC they like being able to shop in Chinatown because they can speak their own language.

Chinatown is divided between the tourist part with most of the heritage buildings, which are mostly on Pender St. and the part where local residents and people from all over the city come to shop at outdoor markets for cheap, healthy and fresh produce and traditional Chinese foods and herbs.  "Some of the benevolent societies support the heights increase in Chinatown south because they think they can get money to renovate their heritage buildings in Chinatown North," said Ivan Drury of the DNC.  “The living part of Chinatown that has the cheap stores is where the city wants to drop the towers. This deal will sacrifice the living heritage of Chinatown south for the heritage buildings of Chinatown north.  They've got their priorities backwards: people should be more important than buildings."

“We’ve seen the impact of gentrification from Woodwards on the western part of the Downtown Eastside,” said Sid Chow Tan.  “Hotel rents are through the roof, and expensive shops make low income people feel really uncomfortable.  Will the produce stores that serve low income Chinese folks from around the neighbourhood and the city be able to survive with the higher taxes and rents in a gentrified Chinatown?” 

 At least one Chinatown resident, Peter Oeder, has already been displaced when the Stadium Hotel near Woodwards closed.  Now living in the New Sun Ah hotel in Chinatown, Peter fears that he’ll be displaced again if condo towers go in and increase property values and rents.

Agnes Li, who owns Novelty Gifts Express Limited on Pender Street said that the height changes don't help small locally serving businesses any more than they do low-income residents. She said, "We're afraid that the high towers will bring even higher taxes for small businesses. Small businesses like us don't get subsidies like London Drugs. Big business doesn't need the support, we do."

Already, with the current zoning, condos and upscale businesses are moving into Chinatown and creating areas of exclusion for low income people.  For example, even though the  London Hotel provides social housing for low income people some of those same people cannot afford and are not comfortable in the new London Pub. Suzanne Baustad, a parent and resident at the Lore Krill Housing Coop on Georgia Street said, “Gentrification is already affecting local kids. Higher income kids are going to Strathcona elementary and there’s more bullying of the kids from poor families."

DNC, CCAP, and the newly formed Chinatown Residents' Committee joined with Chinatown residents and small shopkeepers to show that the city's story, that the towers have unanimous support in Chinatown, is not true. 

The truth," DNC's Sid Tan explained, "is that Chinatown residents have not been consulted about the city's plans."

CCAP's Wendy Pedersen said, "When the city proposed heights increases for all of the DTES we said it was irresponsible and put low-income peoples' housing and lives in danger. Chinatown is part of the DTES and the problem and the danger is the same. And like they agreed to in the rest of the neighbourhood, we want the city to hold off on their plan until we can protect the lives, housing, and community assets of the most vulnerable people in Vancouver. We stand to lose everything if the plan goes ahead. What do developers stand to lose if they wait for a better, more socially responsible plan?"


Ivan Drury, Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, 604-781-7346
Jean Swanson, Carnegie Community Action Project, 604-729-2380