Nothing Lasts Forever — What Tenants Of Vancouver’s False Creek South Need To Understand About Their Neighbourhood

This is a response to a recent feature from The Tyee titled, “Yet Another Housing Survey, for a City That Seems to Love Them.”

“False Creek South is one of Vancouver’s pioneering waterfront communities. It is a highly liveable and walkable inner-city neighbourhood with a unique mix of land uses, housing types and tenures, transportation options, urban character, and amenities.” — Vancouver.ca

There’s a certain amount of eeriness I found in reading this column in The Tyee on Friday as it was not just a day or two prior where I was discussing the peculiarities of said neighborhood with my girlfriend. I’d remarked to her how I found it odd that one section of the seawall, the downtown side, was littered with sky high condo towers, while the other, False Creek South, was not. It baffled me why the city wasn’t exploring the possibilities of False Creek South as it clearly had with downtown. Friday’s Tyee op-ed by Daniela Elza answered many of my initial queries and then some, and with that, I find myself partly agreeing with her plea but also frustrated with her myopic view of how cities function. Here’s a bit of what she had to say.

From The Tyee:

False Creek South is different from most of Vancouver. The city owns 80 per cent of the land and has leased it for a variety of housing, including co-ops, non-profit or rental units. Those leases begin expiring in 2022, and residents fear loss of affordable housing options. It’s been nine years since the city said it would resolve damaging uncertainty about the leases. It still hasn’t.

I have lived in False Creek Co-op for close to 15 years, and it has done more for my housing security — as a single mom, part-time teacher and writer — than the city ever did.

I’ve had my fair share of housing experiences and know that housing design defines how you live your life, who you will or won’t connect with, and how it affects the memory of an entire city. I’ve lived in a rental unit in Richmond; I’ve owned a home in Maple Ridge, when my kids’ father’s commute into Vancouver meant that he left when they were asleep and came home when they were going to bed; and I’ve lived in a market rental unit in Vancouver, a block or so from where I currently live, a place we could barely afford and where the rent was raised the moment we vacated.

Putting False Creek South on the chopping block means I will either be homeless, not living in Vancouver at all, or living in some rat-infested, poorly kept basement. It is disappointing to keep discovering that your city does not have a vision for people who are vulnerable, and in lower income brackets — and that it has not learned anything in the last 50 years or so.

Now I get her plea. I’m a renter as well. Have been since I moved here back in 2009. I understand the stress of uncertainty that the home you’ve had for the past 15 years might not be around much longer. It’s a common theme for many who’ve struggled with the reality of life in this fast evolving city — that you might be uprooted one day, and if you’re a renter, it sucks.

I’ve signed numerous one year leases with apartment owners in the past decade only to have my home sold right under me just a few months later. Rising property values and speculation have fuelled a market which has left renters scrambling to stay afloat in a city with a vacancy rate of 1–2.6%.

It isn’t easy.

But part of being a resident of this beautiful city is accepting the truth — that it’s constantly evolving. Growing.

False Creek South is prime real estate. With some of the city’s most picturesque views. The land is currently underdeveloped for how it can be best used. Thousands more could live there. Hence why I was fascinated with the contrast of its opposing neighbour.

It should be developed. Daniela is crying NIMBY because she currently lives there. In doing so, she’s not seeing the bigger picture. Neighbourhoods evolve, change, they grow. It sucks at times when they do, but we must accept that. And if she and the people in her community cannot, then maybe they should send a letter to the rest of the world telling them not to move here. Because unless they do that, this city will continue to densify.

My first apartment in the Westend was $900. I’m sure it’s closer to $1500 today. In my current home in Chinatown, I pay $1900. The place I live in is newish. It was built in 2009. My rent isn’t cheap, but commensurate with an average for what Vancouver costs. It’s not ideal, but I accept the reality. There are cheaper options for sure, plenty of ground level suites I could opt for. However, I choose to live here and I accept that the owner of my suite has the right to sell whenever. It’s happened to me numerous times before this past decade. It sucks when it does, but again, that’s a reality of life when you live in a city as beautiful and sought after as Vancouver.

Will anyone care if the owner of my suite sells and I’m forced to find a new home? No. Just like everyone else whose been in the same predicament, I’ll have to suck it up and find a new spot, hopefully one I can afford or else I’ll have to decide a different option.

Daniela is right to worry. She might have to find a new home. She probably will. But she has time. I doubt anything will develop for at least five years, and even then, it’ll take another five or so to build anything new. The city owes it to her and the entire community to help them find similar housing if they do decide to redevelop. They’ve been there for so long, it only seems the right thing to do. The city also needs to allocate a certain amount of rental units per condo tower when they negotiate with developers. This is what Daniela and myself and everyone else who rents in this city should be clamouring for.

Good things are on the way for low income renters in this city, as I’ve detailed in past weeklies. But there’s plenty more to be done. Community is important as Daniela has detailed so emphatically in her essay. Maintaining that as much as possible, while balancing it with development has to be a priority for the city. But not developing some of the city’s best land is irresponsible. She should know this.

Track and Food (Editor, Podcast Host) | Scout Magazine (Contributor) | Sommelier | NBA junkie and lover of a good cookie.

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