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Vancouver city councillor tables plan to 'unlock' housing in DTES

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A Vancouver city councillor is proposing an ambitious plan to create greater housing stock in the Downtown Eastside.

ABC Coun. Rebecca Bligh’s motion, “Uplifting the Downtown Eastside and Building Inclusive Communities that Work for All Residents,” seeks to increase below-market housing supply in the Downtown Eastside-Oppenheimer development area. 

The DEOD currently restricts new developments to a 60/40 mix of social and market rental housing. According to the proposal, only two projects have been built in that area since the plan was approved in 2014.

“We need to unlock future development to enable that, with prioritizing rental and below-market rental in those zoned areas,” Bligh said.

Bligh’s motion also looks at including an array of commercial spaces to mirror the diversity of the neighborhood’s residents and needs.

“The goal is to build a community where people can see themselves being able to live, work and shop,” she said. “We know that each of us live in our communities that way and folks on the Downtown Eastside should expect to, too.”

‘WE NEED TO BE CAUTIOUS’

Michael Geller, an urban planner, said he was pleased to hear the details within Bligh’s motion. Geller said in 2014, he presented a speech to city council about his thoughts on the DEOD plan.

“At that time I feared that the policy would not result in a lot of housing being built, unless there was an extraordinary amount of public money and that money never came,” he said.

Geller said he’d like to see a greater mix of housing in the neighbourhood, but Bligh said the plan is to concentrate on enabling more rental and below-market rental development, not strata condos.

“We need to be cautious around not having unintended consequences that make projects further restricted because we went too far, too fast with zoning,” she said.

ADVOCATES SEEK AMENDMENT

Jean Swanson, with the Carnegie Community Action Project, said she’d like an amendment added to Bligh’s motion to ensure condos continue to be excluded from the DEOD.

“So there’s some good things in the motion, but what I’m afraid of is opening up the zoning to allow condos in the Oppenheimer section of the Downtown Eastside,” she said.

Bligh told CTV News she understands the concerns raised from some community members, and that the goal is to not worsen the housing crisis by making land more unaffordable.

“I’m happy to say that I’ll be bringing forward language to make sure that everybody feels comfortable with the intent of the motion, (and make the intent) as explicit as possible,” she said.

The motion also aims at replacing all of the single-room occupancy buildings in Vancouver. According to the motion, as of January 2023, there are 146 open SROs containing 6,500 units.

If the motion is passed, city staff will then report back on their findings late next year. 

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