Notes from the September 18th meeting

Presentation to the Citizens Assembly: In response to the request from Rachel Magnusson, organizer and chair of the assembly experiment, for info from the GHG on heritage issues, we discussed who would be able to go on October 4th at 12:30. The time constraints, which bear a remarkable resemblance to speed dating, were described in the invitation as …

“This Dialogue session will have:
-12 stations, with one organization or group at each station
-There will be four ‘conversation rounds’ over 48 minutes
-During each conversation round (12 min), 4 Assembly members will visit your station
-During each conversation round, we’d like you to say a few words to the Assembly members (3-5 min), and then as a group you can discuss any issues or questions that arise”

Accordingly, there doesn’t appear to be much point in putting effort into a presentation. However, it was suggested that all members of the assembly be invited to one of our regular GHG meetings. Bruce Macdonald agreed to go on our behalf and there were a couple of other names suggested who might be available.

• Eric Phillips updated an earlier talk on the hazards of home renovation, bringing some new material about asbestos, including its presence in plaster fillers that might have been used in repairs and renovations since the 1950s of heritage houses. He discussed strategies for personal protection and the amounts that might be found. He and others emphasized that asbestos is inert and harmless when “locked into” walls behind paint and only becomes a hazard when it’s disturbed, for example by drilling or sanding, when dust can easily be created and inhaled.

• The balance of the meeting focused on the issues of demolition of the neighbourhood’s roominghouses. It was prompted by the recent demise of 1723 Napier (mentioned in earlier posts), the loss of human diversity as affordability decreases and the question of whether city policy changes could or should stall the gentrification juggernaut. As a group, the GHG has been interested in both cultural and architectural history, recording the passing parade of diverse peoples while promoting the retention of vintage buildings. When roominghouses disappear, the building might stick around and be renovated but it’s unlikely that new occupants will be as … uh, interesting or numerous.

Michael Kluckner presented some slides on the history of gentrification in the city, identifying a number of events that accelerated change. [A definition: gentrification is the displacement of people from a neighbourhood by others with more money.] Historically, the rejection of urban renewal in the 1960s set the stage for gentrification, in Strathcona in the Vancouver example – urban renewal would have kept the same people while giving them new housing; gentrification did exactly the opposite. Another key event was the Strata Title Act, passed into legislation in 1966 and becoming a tsunami in the early 1970s due to conversions of rental apartments into self-owned ones and construction of new condos; combined with changes to the Income Tax Act in 1972 which made the owning and operating of residential rental buildings less attractive, and rent controls enacted in 1974, the Strata Title Act created “a social space of gentrification, brought about by an economic restructuring that increased the affluence of some, but displaced others,” in the words of UBC law professor Douglas Harris.

What would make it easier to retain Grandview’s roominghouses? Suggestions were:

– extending capital gains exemptions so resident owners who rented out much of their principal residence in separate suites would be able to claim the 100% exemption of the building as their principal residence;

– modification of the onerous building codes that plague anyone trying to renovate an old buiding: somehow, a better balance has to be struck between obvious life-safety issues and the affordability of existing houses;

– increased awareness of alternate forms of ownership to get poorer people into the market: “ownership in common,” fractional title arrangements, co-ops both non-profit and for-profit (aka apartment corporations);

– extending the city’s rental-replacement bylaw, which forces owners of buildings containing 6 suites or more to create as many suites as they are removing in a demolition or conversion, into the RT areas; currently, the bylaw only applies in the RM areas (in Grandview, west of The Drive and northwest of Adanac and Victoria approximately).

There was much discussion and analysis of a current assembly of 3 rooming houses in the 2200-block of Triumph, interesting because of the number of affordable suites in each of them and also the potential profit for a developer. This is one of them:


• The meeting ended at 9 with some discussion about a possible strategy for the upcoming November 15th civic election.

Next meeting: October 16th, 7 pm, which according to the calendar is “National Boss Day.”