News / Vancouver

Downtown Eastside charity relieved to stay in building bought by Lululemon founder

The Writers’ Exchange close to securing new lease in building bought by billionaire Lululemon founder Chip Wilson’s real estate company.

The Writers' Exchange mural outside the charity's office in the 800-block of East Hastings.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

The Writers' Exchange mural outside the charity's office in the 800-block of East Hastings.

One Vancouver charity is crediting Lululemon founder Chip Wilson’s real estate company with a “change of heart” that will allow it to stay in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood where it is needed most.

The Writers’ Exchange, which helps more than 700 inner city kids get excited about reading and writing, was facing an uncertain future after Low Tide Properties bought the three-storey building it called home in 2013 and began raising tenants’ rents or maintenance fees.

That led to several non-profits and charitable organizations leaving the building, in the 800 block of Hastings Street, (though some said they left for unrelated reasons) and the Writers’ Exchange contemplating doing the same.

However, the charity’s creative director, Sarah Maitland, told Metro on Monday that it is close to securing a new five-year lease in a second-floor unit in the Low Tide-owned building for less rent than its existing ground-level space.

“[Low Tide] had a change of heart and said they wanted to negotiate with us to stay in the building,” said Maitland. “This is where our kids are, this is where the schools are and it lets us keep the relationships we’ve made in the community already. We’re really happy.”

Since Metro reported on tenants leaving the building amid increasing gentrification in April, Maitland said the Writers’ Exchange was having little luck finding a suitable new home.

Charities are especially feeling the same affordability crunch as renters and homeowners in the residential market, she said.

“It’s really similar for businesses, too. And as a small charity, we don’t want to be spending or money on things like that [increased rents and associated costs],” said Maitland.

While the proposed move upstairs will come with its own renovation and set-up costs, Maitland said the deal offered by Low Tide is a “sweet” one, especially since nothing else available on the market met the Writers’ Exchange’s budget and needs.

Low Tide Properties president and director David Ferguson could not be reached for comment by Metro deadline.

But in an email exchange with Maitland earlier this month, and shown to Metro, Ferguson wrote: “We are very much in support of the reading programs you offer for children in the community and are happy to work with you in any way we can to ensure that that could work continues.”

Low Tide owns 40 properties worth more than $300 million and is vying to acquire $1.5 billion in property over the next 10 years, according to past executive job postings.

It is just one of several companies buying real estate in the neighbourhood, which is in for significant change under the city’s Downtown Eastside plan.

The expected wave of new businesses and residents expected in the area are welcomed by some but it has also raised fears of ongoing gentrification and affordability strains in the traditionally low-income community.

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