Joyce and the Giant (Real Estate Development): Housing Affordability and Gentrification around Joyce Station
In June, the City of Vancouver approved the Joyce Station Precinct Plan, a proposal to build 2,800 new housing units in the form of high-rise and midrise towers, apartments, and townhomes situated on three corners of Joyce-Collingwood skytrain station. This is part of a transit-oriented plan to build more housing units in Vancouver for middle- and high-income buyers.
But in the city of Vancouver, most of the available land has already come into commercial, residential, recreational (like parks) or industrial use. This means that anything new being built, whether a high-rise condo or a trendy café, will almost inevitably replace something that is already there.
The Precinct Plan calls for rezoning over 100 single-family homes in the area to make way for the project. These developments in my neighbourhood are one of the latest in a hot real estate market.
What is troubling about the approved proposal is that it seems to be on its way to become another barrier to affordability amidst Vancouver’s housing crisis. With precedents like the City approving a development plan that bulldozed the Little Mountain social housing and dispersed their 224-family strong community and the loss of more than 400 units of affordable older stock housing to redevelopment over the past seven years, I fear that such a huge development project will displace the low- and middle-income families in this area by making it difficult people to afford to live here.
Snapshot of a community at risk of being gentrified
The area around Joyce station is a small part of the Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood, a working-class, low- to middle-income, multi-lingual neighbourhood that is home to a predominant immigrant population and a large number of families with children.
The site of the developments is currently a mix of small mom-and-pop businesses, seemingly underused space such as driveways and grass, and 6,300 homes, 46% of which are inhabited by renters (Page 19 of the Precinct Plan). Of those 46% of renter households, 330 households spend more than 50% of their income on rent, and 1,335 households spend more than 30% on rent (Page 19). All of the 2,800 units in the development are intended to be sold for market-rate with no room for affordable housing (in Vancouver, affordable housing’s definition is a building in which at least 30 percent of the dwellings are occupied by households that cannot afford market rates). While the Precinct Plan mentions “affordable housing” 31 times throughout the document, not once is affordable housing required as a condition for the developments; it reads as though it is only recommended or encouraged. Worse, at market-rate, these units will cost more than the average cost of an existing housing unit in this neighbourhood, which could contribute to driving up the costs of land and houses in the area and then trickle down to higher rent costs as well.
In response to the plan for this development, concerned residents formed the Joyce Area Residents’ Association (JARA) to direct their concerns as a group to senior city planners for Vancouver. They demanded protection to vulnerable residents and retailers so that they could remain in the neighbourhood, multi-lingual processes and materials for the Precinct Review, and that “city planners follow through with BC Housing to outline a clear plan in the Precinct Review to secure 100% social housing sites for the future”. They printed out lawn signs for their initiative which I’ve seen on people’s lawns and in shop windows. They conducted a neighbourhood survey by knocking on the doors of over 100 homes in the area that was proposed to be turned into the towers to hear about their concerns for housing affordability. They held a Community Celebration Walking Tour and Block Party to engage a community whose residents may become threatened by rising housing costs as the value of land around the skytrain rises with the addition of new towers. Throughout Greater Vancouver, plans for increased density are linked to mass transit lines, as the Burnaby neighbourhood of Metrotown is experiencing and actively protesting.
Despite the group’s efforts, the City of Vancouver approved the plan to build the developments. There was no guarantee of protections for local businesses who may get displaced by chain businesses that would move in to cater to a population that can afford the new housing units. No clear promise for affordable housing. The impromptu civil society that united to have transparent consultation did not have their demands met. The story is just like the Little Mountain development all over again. Similarly, when a developer proposed building a midrise tower in the Grandview-Woodlands neighbourhood, a similar community-organized opposition formed as the No Tower Coalition. They gave out signs staked throughout the neighbourhood clearing bearing the message to developers that they are not welcome. They staged a protest and collected over 3,000 signatures asking city council to vote against the proposal. As Vancouver’s councillors and planners push to densify outside of downtown, fights between developers and community groups increase.
The parallels send me on a time-based train of thought. I recall learning about Hogan’s Alley only this year, a once vibrant street in its heyday during the Roaring Twenties and Dirty Thirties. It was Vancouver’s first concentrated hub for the African-Canadian community before the City of Vancouver implemented road rezoning to slowly displace the residents over the course of four decades. Japantown, its history obscured underneath today’s Downtown Eastside which is in turn becoming obscured beneath up-and-coming Gastown, lost its community when the people living there had to leave, though for a more overtly sinister kind of displacement during the World War II relocation to internment camps. I don’t even know what social and regulatory governance changes took place for European settlers to eventually outnumber the local First Nations bands in Metro Vancouver during the founding of British Columbia, before Vancouver was established. Vancouver neighbourhoods have more than once changed their predominant income group, social class and cultural affiliation over time because of the politics of power and erasure using economic geography’s subtlest, most benevolent point to the door: gentrification.
I don’t want to give up hope for the community of Joyce in Renfrew-Collingwood, though. Little Mountain fought, and now Chinatown is fighting to save its most vulnerable community members from being priced out. We need to put more work into affordable housing, which is often neglected to make way for market rate housing investments. We need to work better together, as residents and planners and youth and changemakers and civic, provincial and federal governments, to find a way to make housing affordability a reality.
Recently I checked out an aesthetically beautiful, community-organized celebration in another neighbourhood that is definitely undergoing cultural death by real estate development (ie. gentrification), whereas Joyce is only threatened by it. Chinatown’s Dr. Dun Yat-Sen Chinese Classical Garden Society was hosting their annual Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, a series of family-friendly arts and crafts, all-ages storytelling, lantern parades, hot food and local musicians for the cultural celebration of the autumn harvest moon. The Moon Festival featured the strengths of the community that nurture its vitality, growth, and identity: talented local musicians and artists, multiple generations interacting and participating in the activities, dedicated volunteers who spent hours caring for the garden and its multi-chambered rooms, and local organizers who had made the celebration happen so that the people could have an opportunity to celebrate together. Renfrew-Collingwood has its own celebration of the harvest moon with the Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival, a delightfully fresh homage to an ancient tradition that takes place in a forested ravine that bursts with the same calibre of a community’s creativity, spirit, and unity. These people who live in these places are the life of the neighbourhood.
Whenever I walk every morning past the construction crew busily preparing for preparatory renovations around Joyce skytrain station, I wonder what the area will look like in two years. And I wonder if neighbourhoods like Chinatown, the Downtown Eastside, and Joyce Collingwood will be able to retain their communities from being priced out before the bubble bursts.
By Abby Pelaez
* All views expressed in this blog post belong to the author and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH.