Anti-Gentrification Fight in Renfrew-Collingwood Begins

IMG_20160614_171226Joyce area residents resisting against the upzoning of their neighbourhood.

JARA Organizer, Chanel Ly

I don’t know what’s worse – watching my community disappear or knowing that it’s going to happen. I’m experiencing both at the same time, in Chinatown and in Renfrew-Collingwood, both communities of colour. We have been fighting, giving it our all, but now I am feeling worn out, and have been ready to admit defeat multiple times.

Two days ago, Joyce residents stood up in front of Vancouver City Council to tell their stories and speak out against the Joyce-Collingwood Precinct Review. This plan is proposing the addition of 2,800 units at Joyce Skytrain Station in the form of high-rise and midrise towers, apartments, and townhomes. For almost all of us, it was our first time and I was so proud to see my neighbours stick up for each other at city hall. Geoff Meggs discouraged us from applauding after speeches, but we continued anyway. We are a group of intergenerational majority Asian immigrants or children of immigrants and we have complex multi-generational histories of displacement and resistance. It has been an emotional rollercoaster as an organizer. The most heartbreaking thing is that the City may very well greenlight this without truly listening to the community.

With our current municipal government and political environment, the odds are stacked against us to say the least. Transit Oriented Development (TOD) supports the City’s goal to be the greenest city in the world. TOD means more density around transit stations, which encourages people take more transit. In the City’s planning process, there was never a chance to engage critically with this concept. Citizens who were provided this explanation for densification, took it for face value and further debate was discouraged. More density is the assumed solution to the housing crisis.

Three years ago, Westbank proposed a 29-storey tower of luxury condos on the corner of Vanness Ave and Joyce St, which triggered the planning process Council is now deciding on. The tower has an FSR of 14.33 – currently there is no density greater than 9.0 outside of the downtown core. Two more towers of this calibre are proposed on the other corners of the station. It is plain to see that this plan will open the doors for market development to start bulldozing the neighbourhood.

The negative impacts severely outweigh the positive. The precinct review has no social housing or rental housing requirements, no Floor Space Ratio (FSR*) cap, and no mechanisms to control the pace of development. There has been no attempt to offer protections for the small businesses we depend on. The Community Amenity Contribution (CAC) negotiation process hasn’t been clarified and remains in the power of the City and developers. The community also never received a clear answer on why this development was necessary and how the heights were determined. The plan states that the high-rise towers will “mark the station” as the sole justification for the heights. This kind of top-down planning has been very vague and exclusive.

What are the negative impacts? They can’t tell us because they have refused to provide an impact assessment. If this was a pipeline review, the whole process would be illegal, and there are parallels to be drawn. We have been stone-walled, but we do know we have to continue to resist to protect our neighbourhood and get ready to support people through difficult transitions. There’s no doubt that a 29-storey tower in a predominantly SFH neighbourhood will cause housing prices and rents to skyrocket. Upzoning has never made the housing market more stable or affordable. The positive impacts – we may get more childcare spaces, 2-3 bedroom condos, and hundreds of units of social housing. At what rents? At whose expense? We still have so many unanswered questions.

The City has adequate zoning capacity to support predicted population growth. If people want to talk about demand, I can show you the numbers of people on the waitlist for social housing. I can show you how vulnerable renters become when development comes into a neighbourhood. I can show you how low-income neighbourhoods can thrive if residents are invested through the self-determination of their community.

We want more time, we want to decide the process for collaboration, and we have the right to decide how our community is developed. We want equitable transit oriented development, which ensures that lower income people won’t fall through the cracks, and existing residents aren’t displaced for the sake of population growth.

We will continue organizing and expressing our opposition to exclusive planning and unfettered market development. When immigrant homeowners are pressured to sell, we will be there. When renters and retailers are evicted, we will be there.
City council will make their decision on June 28. We have already made ours.

*Floor Space Ratio, or FSR, is a measurement of density. It is the ratio of the building’s total floor area to the piece of land it is built upon.

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