Housing affordability, a living wage, healthy and happy communities
In my capacity as a Director and President of the West End Resident Association (WERA) in May of 2008, I was invited to a meeting by the owners of the site of the Coast Plaza Hotel to discuss a possible rezoning of the site. The owners of the site where the Coast Plaza Hotel is located leased it to Coast Plaza Hotel and Resorts Coast Hotel’s website. The Coast Plaza Hotel is located on at 1763 Comox Street in the West End. Coast Plaza Hotel and Resorts has built another hotel in Coal Harbour at 1180 West Hasting Street, a 20-storey building with 220 rooms. The Coast Plaza Hotel in the West End will close and the owner of the site wants to change the use of the building from a hotel to market rate rental apartments.
Over the past three years in the West End housing affordability in a number of different ways has been the number one issue for residents. Rents have been going up, there have been a number of illegal evictions which have been come to be known as “Renovictions” Word Spy, low vacancy rates and number of issues with the Residential Tenancy Act around the security of tenure have all combined to have housing affordability in forefront of resident’s concerns. Over 80% of residents in the West End are renting households, which has given the issue some traction based on broad base anxiety. Legitimately when there is upward pressure on rents and low vacancy rates renter start to feel nervous.
When WERA was approached by the owners of the Coast Plaza Hotel we thought that in general it was a positive development for the West End. 316 new rental units would become available and as there were only going to be minor renovations to units, there was a possibility that the units would not be to expensiveWERA article about rezoning. WERA wrote a letter to the City stating that it was in general support of converting the use from hotel to rental and recommend to the City that it enter into agreement with owners as to the affordability of units. This is always the key in rezoning from a community perspective: To ensure that it is going to be a net benefit and for WERA the affordability is at the centre of the rezoning. If the rezoning was to create more affordability then WERA would support the rezoning.
Details, details, details…..follow the money
It would seem nothing is just as simple as changing the use of the building and trying to create more affordability for a community. Now it turns out that the owners of the Coast Plaza Hotel want to try and break the union that has been working for them for the history of the Hotel. Coast Plaza Hotel Resorts that owns the hotel in Coal Harbour will not invite any of its current employees to join them in their new hotel. So in effect when the Hotel in the West End closes 150 employees will lose their jobs. To add more Vancouver Olympic irony, the new Coast Plaza Hotel in Coal Harbour will open in time to accommodate visitors for the Winter Games and the Coast Plaza Hotel in the West End will stay open during the Olympics, but will close after the Olympics. The owners of the hotel do not want to give “transfer rights” to its current employees
The 150 workers at the Coast Plaza Hotel are represented by Unite Local 40 (http://uniteherelocal40.org/). Unite Local 40 is a hospitality union and have been in negotiations with the Coast Plaza Hotel to sign a new contract and secure “transfer rights” for the current employees. The Union is trying to negotiate with the owner to allow current employees to transfer their rights under their current contract and transfer them down to the new local. Management of the Coast Plaza Hotel is refusing because they are not inviting the union to the new hotel.
The 150 jobs that are at the Coast Plaza Hotel represent good paying jobs for employee and would be considered a “ living wage”. While affordable housing is important to health and happy communities, so too would a living wage be a strong contributing factor. CCPA research on living wage. This is not rocket science and the relationship between health outcomes and income have been understood since the early part of the century.
Two separate silos, one community
Clearly the issue of the Coast Plaza Hotel rezoning application with the City will be judged on its own merits by planners and presented at Council for a decision. Similarly, the issue of contract negations between the Coast Plaza Hotel management and Unite local 40 is an issue between the two parties. But as a community, the issue needs to be considered from a holistic perspective. What is the point of gaining some affordability if folks are going to lose good paying jobs? Vancouver’s challenge in the next decade is to balance affordability, ecological sustainability and economic viability. These three issues are like a stool: if you take one leg away then it falls over. Each leg has many complex elements to it, but ultimately the three elements need to inter-relate in a complex process.
Even if one does not want to think in a holistic manner about the affordability, ecological sustainability and economic vitality, the rezoning of the Coast Plaza site is going to be very loud and messy affair at its public hearing (all rezoning applications are required to have a public hearing at Council and the speakers list cannot be closed). The rezoning of the Coast Plaza Hotel site will be an important issue for West End residents to give their feedback to Council at the public hearing. There will be 150 employees who are going to lose their jobs and one can only imagine how many nights of hearing will be necessary to decide this rezoning. It is important to remember that in rezoning applications Council has the unfettered right to accept or reject them. When an owner buys a property they buy it with the current zoning not with any promise that a rezoning is possible. Council has no obligation to rezone and the majority of the benefit that arises from the rezoning must go to the city and not the owner.