Affordability is the real issue in Grandview-Woodlands

The Vision and NPA City Council have done it again: they’ve proposed a development that doesn’t deal with the desperate need for affordable and social housing, and at the same time makes many members of the community angry.

The conversation about  the proposed Kettle development on the corner of Venables and Commercial has started up again this month, with the release of a design visualization, which includes a 12-storey building, in a neighbourhood where a four-storey limit has been the norm.

Although the project stands to offer some benefit to the Kettle Society’s important work, and would contribute some much-needed supportive housing, the only real winner - at this point - is the developer, Boffo Properties.

The Kettle Society is a non-profit that provides housing, employment and advocacy support for people living with mental illnesses. Their Venables Street centre is too small and needs many upgrades, and wait-lists are growing. Understandably and admirably, the Kettle wishes to expand and gain new facilities, and offer more supportive housing for its clients.

While in an ideal world public funds would support and house our most vulnerable, the Kettle has been realistic and pragmatic, and partnered with Boffo Properties to redevelop the corner of Venables and Commercial.

Unfortunately, the Kettle, and the neighbourhood, seems likely to be shortchanged in this transaction.

At present, only 30 units of supportive housing, as well as a new Kettle centre, have been promised; Boffo will sell approximately 200 market condos. At those numbers, it won’t comply with the city’s own rarely-enforced guidelines for 20% affordable housing, in a neighbourhood that desperately needs that affordable housing for families, young people, and seniors. And of the market condos, BC Business reports that only 25% will be the 2 and 3-bedroom units that families require.

This is another example of market housing that masquerades as a social good. And as a result, the so-called consultation process has left many people in Grandview Woodlands angry and frustrated, once again. Community members are concerned about the effect of the building on the streetscape, but they’re also concerned about what will happen to their friends and neighbours, as their once-diverse neighbourhood rapidly gentrifies. A 12-story development may not be a tall order for a neighbourhood that needs to densify. But a 12-story development where the majority of units will be unaffordable for working Vancouverites does not serve the neighbourhood, nor marginalized people in Grandview-Woodlands..

So, what should be done? The City needs to take a few big steps back. In our November 2014 Council campaign, OneCity proposed an affordable housing policy we called the 20 over 5. We proposed that for every development over five units, twenty percent of the units would have to be affordable housing - affordable, defined as costing no more than 30% of the occupants’ income.

Vision and NPA city council have celebrated the increasing number of purpose-built rentals going up.  They pretend that “rental” is the same as “affordable.”  The Council majority say “affordable” is rent that somebody - anybody - can afford, as enunciated by Councillor Kerry Jang in a memorable radio interview.

The Kettle project should have even more supportive housing, as well as housing that is actually affordable for the seniors and young families in the neighbourhood, many of which are headed by single parents.

City Council clearly also has a consultation problem in Grandview-Woodlands. At the Grandview Woodlands Area Council AGM on March 6, a packed room elected a council of representatives who oppose the development. Perhaps City Council would do well to heed OneCity’s proposal and create neighbourhood councils that have a real voice at City Hall. City Hall needs to collaborate with the residents and find a way to increase density without enraging the neighbourhood. And the neighbourhood has to be willing to compromise, too. Venables and Commercial is a site that can support more height; the Lions building has long been across the street without offending anyone too badly. Let’s make this conversation more about affordability and less about whose views may or may not be blocked.

We can't expect Boffo Properties and the Kettle Society to lead the charge in creating more affordable housing for our community. We need real leadership from City Hall: leadership that commits to making Vancouver a city for everyone.

Alison Atkinson and Thi Vu are founding members of OneCity Vancouver. Both are longtime Grandview-Woodlands residents, and both live within two blocks of the proposed Kettle site. OneCity is a progressive municipal party and movement for change, working for an inclusive, vibrant, and affordable city.


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