News / Vancouver

West End condo would not only have "poor door," but poor playground

City's former homeless advocate speaks out against "the segregation of children."

Homeless Advocate Judy Graves speaks out against a proposed condo building that will have a separate playground for the social housing component.

Jennifer Gauthier / For Metro

Homeless Advocate Judy Graves speaks out against a proposed condo building that will have a separate playground for the social housing component.

A proposed condo building in Vancouver’s West End will have not only a separate door and lobby, but also a separate playground for the social housing portion of the building.

That’s raising concerns about the division between rich and poor in Canada’s most expensive city.

“The concept of segregated children’s playgrounds disturbs me greatly,” said Judy Graves, who worked for the City of Vancouver as an advocate for the homeless until retiring in 2013. She ran for a city council seat in this fall's by-election as a candidate for OneCity.

“If the building is working well, as it’s conceived, and the condos are actually occupied, the children in that building will be going to the same school. And for them to then come home and not be able to play in the same playground — I just find it very, very disturbing.”

Strand Development and Intracorp have applied for a rezoning to build a 30-storey condo tower at the corner of Burnaby and Thurlow streets. The building will replace a single family house, a three-storey rental apartment building and a six-storey condo building. The proposed building would have 82 market condos and 39 social housing apartments.

Pre-sales for new condo towers in the rental-heavy West End have recently soared into the stratosphere: Marcon’s Mirabel project at Davie and Broughton listed pre-sale prices for two-bedrooms at $1.6 million, while the Grosvener at Pacific and Hornby listed pre-sale prices for one-bedrooms at $749,000 and two-bedrooms at $1.3 million.

Staff from Strand confirmed the building would have two outdoor children’s play areas, and it would be very difficult for residents from the social housing to access the market condo playground and vice versa.

Cameron Thorn, vice-president of Strand, said the two portions of the building will be distinct legal entitities, and title for the social housing component will be transferred to the city. In an email to Metro, city communications staff wrote that social housing with separate entrances and amenities are easier to manage.

“We learned from the Woodward’s development that residents living in properties that combine social housing with a market residential component appreciate having their own shared common spaces and outdoor space,” wrote communications staffer Ellie Lambert.

Strand Development and Intracorp have applied for rezoning to build a 30-storey tower on the corner of Thurlow and Burnaby St.

City of Vancouver

Strand Development and Intracorp have applied for rezoning to build a 30-storey tower on the corner of Thurlow and Burnaby St.

The Woodward’s development, which was completed in 2010, is located near Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood and is a mix of market condos and social housing, some of which is for families.

Graves said she doesn’t really have a problem with a separate door for social housing (called a "poor door" by critics), and the practice of leveraging private development to build social housing is “one tool that can be used well.”

The model for new social housing increasingly involves a mix of units not just for low-income people, but for moderate and even middle-income people who have all been squeezed out of Vancouver's housing market. The City of Vancouver wants to enshrine that model into its new Housing Reset policy as it attempts to encourage “the right supply” of housing. The luxury housing market is already very well supplied, chief planner Gil Kelley has noted.

In that context, Graves said, segregating the playgrounds is very strange.

“Ideally they would be able to find a management formula that would be able to intersperse the housing and the condos and the rental housing together,” she said.

“I think that’s worked well in co-op housing forever, where you have a mix of people living together and doing self-management. What does work is having everybody — no matter what their income — having the same values in terms of how they treat each other.”

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