The North East False Creek Plan is a reparation for yesterday’s dispossessed Black community while continuing today’s liquidation of multiracial working-class Vancouver.
Janus was the Roman god with two faces. One looked forward, and the other back. Janus’s two faces suggest that we in our present moment are composed of the collision of the past and the future—that we cannot construct the past without constructing the future. Our considerations and reparations for history are politically loaded, at once remaking our understandings of the past while setting the course for our future.
Like Janus, the City of Vancouver’s North East False Creek Area Plan (NEFC Plan) has two faces. One looks backwards and claims to repair the racial injustices of the past. The other looks ahead and makes no such claims. Vancouver’s future-oriented gaze sees only maximizing land use, implanting market levers for development, public relations to spin and cover up this drive for profit, and feeding the spinning profit delivery engine 20 to 25 glass towers and approximately 4,500 luxury condo units. We are writing to argue that these two goals, of racial equality and maximizing profits, are not compatible.
Alliance Against Displacement (Alliance) is calling for the City of Vancouver to separate the Hogan’s Alley area from the rest of the NEFC Plan (as they did for Chinatown during the DTES Local Area Plan in 2011) and immediately pass the Hogan’s Alley Plan as the plan for land use east of Main Street after the City demolishes the viaducts. We are calling for the City to reject the rest of the NEFC Plan and return it to the community to be driven by the low-income Chinese seniors also dispossessed and displaced by the viaducts construction 40 years ago, and by those most affected by the housing crisis today. The Alliance is calling for the City to form working groups for engagement and grassroots community leadership modelled by the City’s work with the Hogan’s Alley Working Group to develop a community needs-driven (rather than corporate profit-driven) Plan for the rest of North East False Creek.
Reparations for the Black community: Support the Hogan’s Alley Plan
Alliance Against Displacement stands in solidarity with the Hogan’s Alley Working Group’s demand that you accept the Hogan’s Alley section of the Plan with their amendment that the block of city-owned land on the east side of Main Street in sub-area 6D be devoted to 100% rental housing, with a minimum of 70% non-market housing. This housing and a Black cultural centre must be developed and operated under the control of the Black community that is reorganizing around this site after being dispossessed and displaced by previous City government action.
As an anti-capitalist group, the Alliance opposes market housing developments in favour of publicly funded social housing. But, in the case of Hogan’s Alley, we support the Black community’s call that includes some market rental housing. We recognize that the destruction of the Black community to make way for the viaduct in the 70s was a devastating loss—not just in terms of housing, but culture, community, and memory as well. HAWG’s vision for a mix of market and non-market housing at Hogan’s Alley is representative of the political and class dynamics in the organized Black community as it is today, as a result of their historic dispossession.
Lama Mugabo wrote in an article on rebuilding Hogan’s Alley:
The possibility for justice will not come from above. Justice will be built on the solidarity between the Black community, First Nations, Japanese, Chinese and the diverse low-income community in the Downtown Eastside. Reparations will not be measured only by what happens when the viaducts are removed, they should be measured in terms of Canada’s investment in future generations to enhance the quality of life for all our communities, without sacrificing the needs of any, as a way of repairing the injustice caused by white supremacist policies against people of colour.
How do we make sense of Mugabo’s assertion that “justice will not come from above”? Unlike top-down social mix projects, HAWG’s vision represents a dispersed, Black community seeking reparations through the creation of a neighbourhood where they can ground and re-establish relations that were severed by the City in 1972. We see HAWG’s vision as a necessary, bottom-up project that will redistribute resources from the white-dominated power structure, intervene in the broader, white hegemony of Vancouver, and provide Black folks with much-needed spaces to build community power.
No future by condo developer profits: Refer the rest of the NEFC Plan to guidance by people in housing crisis
Mugabo challenges the City to commit to specific forms of reparations that will be measured “in terms of Canada’s investment in future generations.” The plan to build and sell condos in order to pay for the removal of the viaduct contradicts the intention of reparations: you cannot support HAWG’s vision of rebuilding Hogan’s Alley while simultaneously devoting city-owned land to the needs of the rich on the other side of the street and throughout the False Creek lands. The displacement of Hogan’s Alley in 1972 was not exceptional: rather, it emerged out of broader efforts in cities across Canada and the United States to destroy Black urban communities under the euphemistic guise of “urban renewal.” Sparing one City-owned block from white supremacist rule and profit-driven development and calling it “reparations,” while treating the one next to it as fair game for profit, reflects a deep misunderstanding of how the racist and classist overtones of “urban renewal” persist in the City of Vancouver’s ongoing enthusiasm for gentrifying Chinatown and the DTES. In order for Mugabo’s vision of justice to come alive, the Black community must be reorganized alongside the communities that historically neighbored Hogan’s Alley. “Condo-owners” are not one of these communities.
The great majority of the NEFC Plan turns sharply away from the Hogan’s Alley Plan’s ideas of social justice, instead brazenly embracing developer profits as the guiding light of housing development. Although the NEFC Plan includes provisions for non-market housing, the majority of it will not securely house those most vulnerable to displacement and homelessness. We are using the term “non-market” rather than “social” housing because, although the language used throughout the Plan is “social housing,” the City of Vancouver does not define the amount of money that their “social housing” rents for, making the term misleading.
Build Welfare Rate Social Housing on City-owned Lands
Half of the 1,800 units of non-market housing projected by the NEFC Plan will be developed on City-owned lands on both sides of Main Street and where the viaducts currently are. On Main Street the Plan promises 300 units of non-market housing, mixed with market rental housing and “affordable home ownership” (market) condos. It proposes 600 more units of non-market housing in buildings dominated by market condos on the remaining City-owned lands. These 900 units of non-market housing seem like a win for the community, but in fact are a tremendous underuse of the possibilities opened up by taking down the viaducts.
During the DTES Local Area Planning Process, the City of Vancouver repeatedly promised that the viaducts’ removal would be the place where the City would earnestly tackle the housing and homelessness crisis of the DTES and finally replace the remaining privately owned SRO hotels with decent social housing. This project of replacing SRO hotels has never been more urgent than today. Gentrification is driving low-income people out of hotels that are becoming $1,000/mth “micro lofts,” while the decay of time and disrepair drives them out of others, like the Balmoral, which was shut down and evacuated by fire order last year with no new housing to take its place. But rather than dedicate the lands under the viaducts to welfare rate social housing, the City is planning to partner with developers to offload the costs of demolishing the viaducts to community amenity contributions made by development corporations in exchange for height and density bonuses. Working class Black and Chinese residents bore the weight of the City building the viaducts, and now low-income, Chinese seniors and other working class and Indigenous SRO residents, as well as homeless people, will be cast out with the rubble as the City tears them down.
The Market won’t Save Us: Scrap Inclusionary Zoning
The other half of the non-market housing promised through the NEFC Plan is to be leveraged through the market mechanism of mandatory inclusionary zoning. By building 4,500 condo units in 20 to 25 condo towers, the NEFC Plan’s 20% inclusionary zoning component will leverage 900 non-market units. This will likely mean an average of 36 units of non-market housing in each building of 180 condo units. These non-market units will be developed as a major part of the “community amenity contribution” of the condo development, meaning that other community resources like schools and community centres will not be developed. The rents of these units are not predicted under the Plan and likely will not be affordable to low-income people.
The narrative of the NEFC’s 20% inclusionary zoning plan for non-market housing is that the real estate market can solve the social crisis caused by the real estate market. But the truth is that minor inclusionary zoning provisions are a trojan horse that bring increased building heights and densities to working class and low-income neighbourhoods under the premise that these developments will bring new affordable housing. The effects of the NEFC glass tower condo forest will add even more gentrification pressure to the Downtown Eastside, undermining the scarce protections against market forces that the low-income community won in the DTES Local Area Plan. The narrative of 20% inclusionary zoning is that we can all win by building more condos because we get some non-market units. But 20% inclusionary zoning rules at False Creek will make a city dominated by condo owners and investors, with the rest of us making up a slim minority.
The prerogative of the condos coming under the NEFC Plan is profit for condo development corporations, not housing for working class and low-income people. In order to offset the decades-old effects of profit-driven condo development, we are calling on the City of Vancouver to send the NEFC Plan back to communities most affected by the housing crisis – not just current residents of False Creek but those who need homes, including Chinese seniors in rooming houses, homeless people, and SRO residents. The City’s work with the Hogan’s Alley Working Group to develop a culturally and historically relevant development plan should be the model for the development of all of False Creek.
Two plans, one future
Alliance Against Displacement is calling for Vancouver City Council to recognize the contradictory faces of the North East False Creek Plan and separate the Plan’s two parts. In 2011, when Council initiated the DTES Local Area Plan, they separated out Chinatown from the rest of the Downtown Eastside because, Council claimed, community members in Chinatown had already undertaken an exhaustive visioning and planning process. This claim is true for the Hogan’s Alley portion of the NEFC Plan. In Hogan’s Alley, the City of Vancouver has undertaken extensive community-driven visioning and planning work that will not be improved by stalling that portion of the plan any longer. The rest of the NEFC Plan has been subjected to only the most perfunctory and bureaucratic “consultation” and “information” sessions.
The Alliance supports the immediate passage and implementation of the Hogan’s Alley portion, east of Main Street, of the NEFC Plan. We support the amendments to this section called for by the Hogan’s Alley Working Group – that the block of city-owned land on the east side of Main Street in sub-area 6D be devoted to 100% rental housing, with a minimum of 70% non-market housing, and that the City commit to supporting the Black community to direct the development and operation of the housing and cultural and other services at this site.
The Alliance calls for Vancouver City Council to reject the rest of the NEFC Plan and send it back to staff to set up community working groups composed of those most affected by the capitalist market driven housing crisis. These working groups can develop a plan for the future of North East False Creek that complements the spirit of justice exemplified by the best parts of the Hogan’s Alley Plan, so the City will not need to reconcile and repair harms done today, tomorrow.