How can a balanced housing mix be kept in the last building phases in Southeast False Creek?
“I believe that if we can use density bonusing to save heritage buildings, we can use it to build affordable homes, too.…Woodward’s is a case in point. It’s almost one million square feet, which is the size of the Olympic Village. That density is what allowed all these things [public amenities] to occur.”
“We need to look at this [the modest-income third] from a renter’s perspective, about what’s affordable. Some of the renos in the West End have meant the new rents are $2,500 a month. So I’d like to know whether it’s going to be ‘affordable’ by supply-and-demand rules? Or whether it’ll be linked to income?”
“We should fight like hell for the federal government to come up with the money. When my housing bill [C-304] is adopted, we’ll have a national housing strategy again, and it won’t be an issue anymore. The Bloc and, I’m pretty sure, the Liberals are supporting it, so it will likely pass in September.”
“Anything can happen if we have the will to make it happen. They could do it if the different levels of government got together and decided to give a damn. We see what’s happened with the [Homeless Emergency Action Team] shelters and the reduction of crime. We’d get paid back enormously. But I’m not holding my breath.”
In the view of developer Stanley Kwok, high-rises are key to Vancouver’s economic future.
In the United Arab Emirates, Vancouver-based developer Stanley Kwok recently helped create a waterfront community much like Southeast False Creek (SEFC). Unlike in Vancouver, though, where planners “have a concern about heights”, Kwok said, the glittering Dubai Marina boasts twin 44-storey condo towers that rival the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre in height. The development is massive. Cash from sales of super-dense condos is what supports the Middle East community’s posh amenities, such as a faux lagoon.
Kwok isn’t the kind of guy to say “I told you so,” but his original development plan—released in 1997—for what’s now the Olympic Village called for far higher density than the green, low-rise project that has evolved a decade later. That density, Kwok said, is a key to economic sustainability, and halting it could be to blame for gutting the 2005 goal of one-third social housing, one-third modest-income housing, and one-third market housing.
“You can’t have champagne on a beer budget,” Kwok, one of the people behind the Concord Pacific development in Yaletown, told the Straight during an interview in his 18th-floor penthouse on South Granville. “It’s like everything. Without money, nothing happens. You can dream all you like, but you have to be practical.”
In 2005, the Olympic Village site’s official development plan contained the “thirds” goal. But in 2006, Vancouver’s Non-Partisan Association council changed the mix to 20-percent social housing and 80-percent market. The party blamed empty social-housing pockets at the provincial and federal levels for forcing the change, which otherwise could have cost the city’s Property Endowment Fund at least $42 million ($63.1 million total), according to SEFC’s 2005 financial plan and strategy.
Kwok’s argument is that if the city wants goodies like affordable housing—and the federal and provincial governments are not shelling out housing dollars—Vancouver must be prepared for towers. Even though the Olympic Village has already been built, this still matters, because the other two phases of SEFC have not.
On paper, the outer ring at SEFC still contains that “thirds” housing mix. In the next couple of years, the new Vision Vancouver–dominated council will move forward with developing that land. But with the continued drought of provincial and federal housing dollars, where’s that money going to come from?
Vision councillor Raymond Louie is hesitant to endorse Dubai-like towers, but he won’t write them off, either. So far, the city has been successful in securing funding for the HEAT (Homeless Emergency Action Team) shelters from the province, he said. Council is planning to continue to lobby the provincial and federal governments, he noted, and he hopes for continued success. Plus, he said, the city’s soon-to-be-introduced rental strategy will provide short-term incentives for developers to create 2,000 units within two years.
“Height and density need to be appropriately placed in this city,” Louie told the Straight. “My hope would be that we could recover some of the lost opportunities at the Olympic Village, and it may entail additional density. This wouldn’t necessarily be high towers. We’d have to look at it very carefully.”
But to architect Gregory Henriquez, height is right. Henriquez Partners Architects is the firm behind Woodward’s, Lore Krill Housing Co-op, the 1976 False Creek development, and other progressive mixed-income developments. He doubts that the next phases of SEFC will retain the “thirds” goal without a civic change in favour of towers.
Developers can only be part of the solution, according to Vancouver–Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan. The tower-rich Collingwood Village, she said, is a good example of offering density to a developer in exchange for affordable housing. Ongoing subsidies, however, still depend on the involvement of government.
“All that [provincial and federal] money has now dried up,” Kwan told the Straight, noting that’s what supported the model income mix at the old False Creek site. “So how will the city solve the mix in SEFC? That’s the ultimate question.”
From Kwok’s penthouse view, the towers at Yaletown are picturesque while the low-rise zoning in Fairview appears dull. But the view from City Hall, ultimately, will determine Vancouver’s affordable future.
SEFC: rich in expensive goodies in 2005
> Cost of low-income housing: $42 million (for one-third of the mix; $25.4 million was the estimated cost for 20 percent low-income housing)
> Cost of middle-income housing: $21.1 million (for one-third)
> Park sites and development: $42.6 million
> Heritage buildings renovation: $10.6 million
> Community centre and boating facility: $9 million
> Library: $1.5 million
> Childcare: $19.8 million
> Roads and traffic management: $36.5 million
> Of this, $85 million was to come from the Property Endowment Fund.
All figures from the January 17, 2005, document Southeast False Creek Redevelopment: Financial Plan and Review