There is a housing crisis in the West End. However, it is not a lack of market based rental housing. It is the declining affordability of housing. This has reached the point where it is forcing seniors, other on fix or limited incomes, workers in our community, and working families to leave. Even local businesses are being forced to relocate as their rents become less affordable.
There is no doubt that the character of West End community is being changed, but these changes are not being driven by community needs. Instead, it is market forces controlled by developers, non-resident property owners, and corporations who are the driving force behind them.
Like many others in the West End, I am getting tired of attending rally’s and signing petitions opposing unwanted changes in our neighbourhoods, or attending public meetings to oppose ad hoc planning decisions. I think what we need is a community based planning process, and a “Community Plan”, a plan that would address the real housing crisis in the West End – affordability. This would mean an end to spot zoning, and rezoning motivated by greed, rather than community needs. And it would also provide all of us, including developers and property owners with a clear set of rules and guidelines for now, and into the future.
What about Market Based Housing Making the West End more affordable?
While the addition of more market based rental housing in some areas of the city may have an impact on affordability, this has not been the case in the West End in the past, nor is it likely to be the case in the future. Some of the reasons for this are fairly obvious. The West End housing market is already heavily dominated by market based rentals (approximately 80%), and it is a very desirable place to live. We also have the highest occupancy rate in what is already the most densely populated community in the city.
More market based rental housing, particularly if it is based on increased density, will simply continue to drive property values upward, and make housing less affordable. I am also opposed to more market based housing because we are already the most densely populated community in Vancouver, and one of the most densely populated communities on the planet. Our community services are already stretched to, and in some cases beyond, capacity. Although our density has been steadily increased, the budgets for services have not. In fact, there have been cuts to services, leaving population increase driven needs unmet.
Rezoning the Coast Plaza Hotel
We have been told that rezoning of the West Ends Coast Plaza Hotel (as proposed) would result in approximately 300 new market based rental units in our already densely populated West End community. Some folks believe this would be a good thing, and see it as an opportunity to make housing in the West End more affordable. They are of course calling for the rezoning to be contingent on a significant number of units being set aside for social housing and/or affordable housing where rents are tied to income. Unfortunately this is not likely to happen, although they may be able to secure a few units, which will have no positive impact on affordability in the West end.
This rezoning would also mean the loss of a hotel that has been part of our community for many years, provides a number of well paying jobs, and places far fewer demands on our community services than a 300 unit apartment building would. I know there are some community amenities included in the rezoning application, but are they amenities we as a community decided we needed, or are they a divisive bribe designed to reduce opposition to the rezoning?
I will admit that I am somewhat biased, and also oppose the rezoning of the Coast Plaza hotel for personal reasons. I was married there, I put family and Friends up there when they come to visit, I attend a number of community events there every year – like the Pride brunch, and I value the community support provided by the hotel and its workers throughout the year.