Matt and Adam chat with Vancouver East Member of Parliament Jenny Kwan and social activist Beverly Ho of the Chinatown Concern Group about the potential implications of the proposed redevelopment at 105 Keefer St and about the general community backlash against the project.
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Beverly is from Vancouver and has been with the Chinatown Concern Group (CCG) for a year. The group is against gentrification and displacement of the low-income community. They want social housing in the Chinatown area (the Carnegie Community Action Project has the same mandate—it started before CCG and advocates for a larger population).
On her connection to Chinatown:
Beverly grew up in Chinatown. Both her grandmothers lived there and depended on all the resources in the area.
On who is involved in the CCG:
There are usually a couple dozen low-income seniors from the area at the meetings, but there are 40-50 members from Chinatown plus a few dozen youth supporters who have been involved. They cross paths and work with other groups as well.
On the group’s main concerns with the proposed development at 105 Keefer:
They’re worried about the 100+ proposed market condo units that will gentrify Chinatown and raise rents. They saw rents at the Woodwards building go from $375 to $500 by 2013 for many units (there are twice as many high-income units as low-income units and the rent became out of reach for welfare recipients). Although there will be 25 social housing units, at the public hearing it was said eight units will be $800-900 per month—this is too high for many seniors who are on a fixed income.
On if there is a heritage component to the group:
It’s mostly about social housing, but there is a heritage component with the Chinatown memorial. This recognizes Chinese workers, immigrants, and veterans. Many CCG members have relatives who had to pay head tax, so they feel development is disrespectful as they can’t afford to be in Chinatown anymore.
On the town hall meetings for 105 Keefer:
Over 20 hours, more than 300 people signed up to speak (about 200 actually spoke). 150 were in opposition, and 46 supported. It’s inaccessible to their members (many of which are illiterate seniors), but there were interpreters. However, they only got half the time because the other half was used for interpretation. It went very late. It was a success—considering how many people came to support their vision and speak out. Beverly is really grateful. They made a big splash with the media and city hall.
On if members from the community support development in Chinatown and the 105 Keefer project:
She has not personally heard of any support. They try to speak to members by visiting them or attending social events to ensure their views get represented. An overwhelming majority do not want development. Many are just cynical about the City and say there’s no point to this, as they’re not heard (due to the English language barrier).
On her predictions for 105 Keefer going through:
Before, Beverly thought it would go through but is not sure anymore. They usually decide right after hearings, but they pushed it back. It could go either way.
On the City’s changes to the Chinatown heritage zoning bylaw (i.e. encouraging smaller buildings and storefronts) and if this is a win from the community meetings:
Yes. There was protesting of the revitalization plans and with the backlash of 105 Keefer, it seems the City pulled back. However, there is no dedication to social housing and helping low-income businesses that people depended on.
On the argument that supply will help affordability, with developments like 105 Keefer:
Beverly thinks there’s already a lot of housing in Vancouver and adding more unaffordable market housing won’t help potential buyers. We need more supply of social housing at welfare rates; this hasn’t been built in years. The City’s definition of social housing is anything under market rate.
On Henry Yu’s case that the movement against 105 Keefer is a throwback to the anti-freeway movement of the 1960s, and if there are parallels:
Yes. They’re similar because it’s the breaking point where many residents couldn’t take it anymore and organized against something they strongly believe is threatening their neighborhood and their livelihood.
To reach Beverly and learn more:
Jenny is the MP for Vancouver East. Her family immigrated to Canada in the mid-1970s and came to Vancouver under the Family Reunification Program, with sponsorship from her aunt. They moved from basement suite to basement suite, living in only 700 square-feet for a family of eight until they could afford a house. Even then, housing was not easy.
Jenny loves Canada and feels it’s a wonderful place for immigrants and their children. She is eternally grateful to those who came before her and worked so hard for her rights today.
On her history of involvement with Chinatown:
After having arrived here not knowing any English, her friends from school took her to the Chinese library, where she felt more comfortable and met more people. She began to explore the city outside of her neighbourhood. Chinatown brings her fond memories, aside from which it was where her mom would stop every day after work for groceries (and took three buses to get there!) Jenny and her family felt welcome and comfortable there—historically, Chinatowns existed because of rampant racism and discrimination elsewhere.
On the proposed redevelopment at 105 Keefer:
Chinatown is facing huge redevelopment pressures. 105 Keefer is a very important site and she is opposed to it. It’s at the entry to Chinatown, it’s beside the Chinese cultural centre and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, plus the memorial for the railroad workers and veterans is right there. To have a giant, dense building there is unconscionable. It will change Chinatown’s character and overshadow these important sites. It is so, absolutely wrong.
On if the backlash is due to the proposed site or the overall changes to the community:
A number of issues are at play. The proposed site is significant and is strategically placed. What happens there will have ramifications on the rest of Chinatown. People – and not just those from the Chinese community – need to express this to city hall. Also, historic Chinatown is part of our history. The Federal Government just recognized Chinatown as a national heritage site—a plaque was just unveiled. People in the community are trying to have UNESCO recognize it as a world heritage site. Vancouver’s Chinatown is the second largest in North America—its significance can’t be underestimated. We can use it as an economic driver and tourist attraction. Canada exists in no small part due to the Chinese community’s contribution, particularly in BC where they helped build the railway to connect us coast-to-coast. This is no way to repay the people who went through so much for us.
On if there are ways to revitalize Chinatown or offer redevelopment potential to satisfy all stakeholders:
Yes, but this requires more work; there is no quick fix. Redevelopment is always the quick fix and Jenny disagrees with this. New arrivals, not just long-time residents, recognize and understand the importance of historic Chinatown. As an example, we can turn Chinatown into a hub of different eateries, like they have in Hong Kong. The government can take some of the infrastructure money to purchase the 105 Keefer site and honour those who came before us. Another idea is a land swap (this happened with a burial ground of an Aboriginal group where a developer wanted to build. The government intervened and ultimately made a land swap—everyone was happy). People have survived so much over Chinatown’s history, including fires and riots, and the threat of a freeway, so we can surely survive redevelopment pressure.
On her prediction of the proposal’s outcome:
Jenny has no prediction at all but is hoping Council will hear the community’s voice—many different groups want to preserve Chinatown. If approved, she believes this would be the beginning of the end for Chinatown.
To learn more about Jenny: