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Chinatown advocates release alternative neighbourhood plan

Half of all housing in Chinatown should be social housing, according to plan

This is the site of Beedie Living's proposed 105 Keefer project, which was the subject of several days worth of public hearing testimonies at Vancouver city hall in June 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

This is the site of Beedie Living's proposed 105 Keefer project, which was the subject of several days worth of public hearing testimonies at Vancouver city hall in June 2017.

Two Chinatown advocacy groups have put together an alternative plan for the neighbourhood that they say will help longtime residents stay in the community.

Advocates say expensive condo developments and retail businesses have moved into the area in recent years, squeezing out low-income households and seniors.

The 24-page social and economic plan, called the People’s Vision, is based on two years of consultation with Chinatown residents and its authors hope it serves as an alternative to the development the city has allowed in the neighbourhood so far.

“We wanted to make an alternative plan to the city’s policy plans,” said said Beverly Ho, spokesperson for Chinatown Concern Group, which partnered with Chinatown Action Group on the project.

“We wanted to come up with something concrete that could be shared and something that was easy to understand for people inside and outside Chinatown.”

Some of the plan’s recommendations are relatively straightforward, like longer pedestrian-crossing times or better translation services to accommodate the large senior population in Chinatown.

Other suggestions will likely be more difficult to implement. For instance, advocates behind the plan say half of all housing built in Chinatown should be affordable for fixed-income residents.

Beverly Ho is an advocate with the Chinatown Concern Group.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Beverly Ho is an advocate with the Chinatown Concern Group.

“We are calling for a moratorium on market-rate housing until the affordable housing units match up to it,” said Ho.

Social housing currently makes up about 20 per cent of Chinatown’s housing stock. The rest is market-rate housing, according to the plan.

Meanwhile, access to food and groceries is increasingly difficult for Chinatown residents who are elderly or who don’t speak English, say advocates. In 2009, there were more than 10 green grocers in Chinatown. Now, there are about five grocery stores left in the neighbourhood, according to the non-profit, the Hua Foundation.

New businesses are not necessarily unwelcome, but they should not displace existing stores that sell affordable products to people who live in Chinatown, said Ho.

“We’re not opposed to new people coming in but it shouldn’t come at the expense of displacing people who can’t afford to live anywhere else.”

The city conducted public consultations on its plans for Chinatown as well but Ho says it wasn’t enough. Not all materials are translated into Cantonese and Mandarin and some seniors, especially those with disabilities, were unable to attend open houses, she explained.

“We prepared everything in English and Chinese beforehand. We were willing to meet people where they were.”

Over two years, volunteers went door to door and hosted discussion groups to ensure it collected opinions from as many residents as possible, she said. 

The city’s development policies in Chinatown currently allow developers to build up to 150 feet high in some areas and storefronts can be as wide as 125 feet. City staff are recommending council lower those limits to 90 and 75 feet respectively.

City council recently voted down a rezoning application from Beedie Living for a 12-storey development with 25 units of social housing on 105 Keefer St after hundreds of people spoke at a public hearing for the project. Beedie Living submitted a revised application for the site on Friday – this time for a nine-storey building.

Chinatown Concern Group and Chinatown Action Group are launching a petition to combat the city's current approach to development in Chinatown. 

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