Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Xtrawest and Qmunity Selling Real Community Out

Oldtown News
Vancouver BC


I just can't believe how Xtrawest and Qmunity appear willing to sell out their own community for a few crumbs of social service space and with that more povertarian jobs.

The latest editorial in the queer paper XtraWest by Robin Perelle stinks for a number of reasons, the most important one being that this proposed re-development by Westbank Properties for 1401 Comox skirts normal planning processes and attempts to obtain an increase in development (read higher density for profits) by throwing a few crumbs to Qmunity in the way of providing them 3,000 sq ft space for more social service space which is not really comprehensive community space.

Ms Perelle and a number of GLBT leaders think this is a good thing.

People like Ms Jennifer Breakspear, who is Executive Director of Qmunity and her staff gain the most benefit besides of course the developer, as they see an increase in demand for their social services which of course supplies an increase in jobs. While Ms Breakspear is welcome to empire build what is at stake here is what happens to a community when these type of re-zoning's (maximizing density for profit)occur?

Westbank has said they want to build rental apartments on this former St John's United Church property but you can be certain that rentals will be very high and out of reach for most residents of the existing neighborhood. And I thought that the United Church wanted the property to be used for social housing but I guess their greed for money altered their vision. Funny how money does that.

These large scale and luxury style developments open the door for further high end development which has historically been the case and what happens is the displacement of the existing community.

Rents skyrocket for surrounding properties and we have seen this for the existing tenants at a number of West End buildings including the Seaview and for many residents of the Hollyburn properties who were forced from their homes as these Development Corporations use adjacent rents in surrounding luxury buildings to justify their own greedy and exorbitant rent increases.

If this type of development occurs what will surely happen is an upscaled West End which will become the new Coal Harbour annex and make no mistake folks these people will not want a gay community in their midst. We actually witnessed a taste of this when the Odyssey gay club attempted to re-locate to Denman Street and the area residents there became incensed and lobbied the City to turn down the relocation of a gay club into their family neighborhood. Plus does the West End which is a really high density neighborhood need further high density buildings?

Mr Correia
who writes for Xtrawest states in this same article written by his boss (how odd is that) in supporting the Westbank development he states that more apartment rentals in the West End is good but he completely misses the point that it's not good if the existing community can't afford to live there or is pushed out.

Mr Correia is on the board of the new OUR Space community centre building group (new gay community centre building group) and if this is the position taken by OUR Spaces perhaps this new group is not the one to be entrusted to build us a new all inclusive Community Centre. Coincidentally, Ms Laura McDiarmid is on the board of OUR Spaces and as a former Park Board chair she knows a few things about development issues. You can be rest assured that Park boards never to the best of my knowlege allowed spot re-zoning unless it was comprehensive and of benefit to the wider community/neighborhood. So why is she going along with this?

Westbank Properties and its CEO Ian Gillespie also developed Woodwards and for the huge increase in density Mr Gillespie obtained there, the community was promised in return for their support an affordable food market and social family housing which still hasn't materialized. What Westbank provided the community was Nesters Market, a high end boutique food market which has about 30% higher mark-up than other established food markets. Of course it goes without saying that the existing lower income tenants can hardly afford the prices there and so it appears that Nesters was put in place for the new high income dwellers.

Moreover with the Woodwards development, the Developer continues to lobby for a renaming of the longtime Downtown Eastside district to the Woodwards District.

If anyone wants to see what happens to high density spot re-zoning's just look to the Woodwards re-development where across the street, heritage buildings are suddenly renovating and going upscale. Many storefronts there are now advertising high end of market rents and that is in poverty row. You can bet that these property owners will be lobbying hard for the undesirables to be pushed away from their properties.

With the Woodwards complex just look on Craigslist to see how affordable the rents are and you will see what could become the fate of the West End.

The West End already in the last 25 years went through one neighborhood cleansing and I for one can't stomach yet another one.

What Ms Prelle, Ms Breakspear and Westbank are doing is creating conflict and this conflict will pit neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend and community against community. That is not leadership and these individuals should be ashamed.

Jamie Lee Hamilton