Housing, yes. Affordable? That’s debatable. (Twin 33-storey towers 1065 Harwood & 1332 Thurlow, and 1066-1078 Harwood in West End – Public Hearing June 21/Tues)

Intro: This is a submission received by CityHallWatch. It relates to two 33-storey towers going to Public Hearing on June 21, 2022. What it looks like is that, emboldened by the West End Community Plan, which created a windfall for developers when massive density was added to the plan by Planning staff just weeks before the Plan went to Gregor Robertson/Vision-Vancouver-dominated City Council for approval in 2013, Bosa Properties paid far too much for these properties intending to build luxury strata condos. When the market softened, developers pleaded to change the zoning to rentals, which we recount in our 2020 post, “Vancouver planning staff message to developers: “Heads you win, tails you win” (Planners seek rule changes for towers in Burrard Corridor of the West End Community Plan).” Our current City Council under Mayor Kennedy Stewart approved the request. The existing buildings on these sites had a community of long-term tenants paying affordable rents in older rental buildings. They have largely been evicted and dispersed far and wide as far as we can tell. The current heights and densities in what’s ended up going to the Public Hearing appear to be driven by financing. The developer paid so much for the land, they need to recoup their costs.

Above: Images of the two proposed towers by Bosa Properties and architect Henriquez Partners Architects.

Housing, yes. Affordable? That’s debatable.

Article submitted by Harwood and Thurlow residents

On the heels of the Broadway Plan and the City of Vancouver’s agreement to allow developers access to critical infrastructure, such as sewage and transportation to the Squamish First Nation’s Sen̓áḵw housing development, which will add 6,000 more residential units to the south end of the Burrard Bridge, city staff are preparing to add two more 33-storey high-rise concrete towers, on the other side of the bridge, at quiet 1065 Harwood Street at 1332 Thurlow Street in the West End.

These proposed 33-storey buildings with 279 units are unprecedentedly tall in the neighbourhood, with density completely out of character with existing buildings in the area. The development will mean less light, fewer trees, and long shadows over surrounding buildings for blocks on end.

The two developments, (1) at 1065 Harwood and 1332 Thurlow, and (2) at 1066-1078 Harwood Street, in Vancouver’s West End, go to public hearing, and presumably, a council vote this Tuesday June 21 at 6 p.m.

Rezoning pages:

These developments once again raise important and increasingly ignored questions over what “affordable” housing really means, and which is the right kind of housing for this neighbourhood.

The so-called “abundant housing” lobby in this city relentlessly pursues a line that more rental capacity automatically equals lower rents and more affordable housing. But last year, rental capacity in the city was reported to be at a 21-year-peak – and rents are equally at all-time highs. Is it possible that building more stock isn’t the silver bullet it claims to be?

It is notable that the developers claim the towers will be 100% rental, with fewer than 20% set aside as “below market” rental. Bear in mind that average market rent in the city of Vancouver stands just shy of $3,000 a month. Units in brand-new luxury towers will presumably command far more than this. In this scenario, “below market” hardly equals affordable in the West End a neighbourhood whose renters have already sustained a long, painful period of renovictions and demovictions.

Why isn’t the city planning more inclusionary supported housing in this area? The type of housing so plainly needed in an area a short walk from the Rapid Access Addiction Clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital, safe consumption Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation; where homelessness, vulnerability and mental health challenges are evident, and where residents are used to supporting and welcoming neighbours in need of more help on the road to permanent housing and stability.

The developer, Bosa Properties, isn’t proposing to build on vacant land. It is proposing to tear down long-existing, purpose-built rental units. Not for the people who need it most and can afford it least. But for people who can afford to pay well over $6,000 a month for unobstructed sunset views over English Bay. Dressing it up as rental does not equal affordability.

Not only are these towers physically and aesthetically out of step with the neighbourhood –  they are the wrong housing in the wrong place. Why has the city not insisted on non-profit housing to keep this housing stock for supported housing purposes?

Further – local residents have had zero information from the city re: impact on traffic in the neighbourhood, which is hemmed in by one-way streets and turn restrictions. Thurlow runs one-way from north to south. Beach Ave. is down to one lane, a step the city would like to make permanent. During construction, which will take years, residents who access their homes via laneways between Burrard Street and Thurlow will only be able to enter and exit via Burrard, which already has a number of no-left turn restrictions. Getting to and from their homes will require labyrinthian calisthenics requiring the circling of entire city blocks in order to enter the lane.

Against the backdrop of rubber stamping anything and everything with the word “rental” in it, city council must consider these questions:

1)    Is this development in keeping with the character and demographic of the West End?

2)    Why is this development offering nothing in the way of supported housing with so many facilities and programs in the neighbourhood aimed at assisting those who are vulnerable and chronically underhoused and where supported housing already exists, without problem or pushback?

3)    Why another demoviction in a neighbourhood where so many residents have already suffered rising rents, loss of housing, and loss of stability?

 4)   What provisions are being made to accommodate residents who live in the neighbourhood through construction? Traffic flow and access to laneways will be further restricted in an already highly restricted area with permanent no-left turns heading north on Burrard and no provision to turn right onto Pacific/Beach from Burrard. What happens to people in the neighbourhood with mobility issues who cannot simply walk, or ride their bikes or rely on transit?

Tell City Council that these two high-rise towers should not be approved until there are answers to these questions and local residents have a chance to be heard! 

You can contact City Councillors by email and/or request to speak at the Public Hearing page:
  https://council.vancouver.ca/20220621/20220621ag.htm

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