Among other benefits, a proposed Vancouver Waterfront Gateway offers an important opportunity to enhance housing equity in the downtown core.
City officials are developing plans for four buildings near Vancouver City Hall, providing a mix of residential, office and retail space. Included in those plans are 100 apartment units reserved for residents making 60 percent or less of the area’s median income. The most recent statistics indicate that 60 percent of the region’s median income is $1,198 per month.
Various projects over the past 20 years have transformed downtown Vancouver. An area once dominated by a brewery and other industry has become a destination for local residents and visitors, with The Waterfront Vancouver development standing as the center of attention. That has provided an impetus for additional apartment complexes and retail outlets in the area, spreading the sense of a fresh and vibrant community.
Yet that vibrancy too often comes at the expense of low-income citizens. Locales near downtown have become a hub for the region’s unhoused population, often demonstrating a wealth gap that is dividing communities across the country.
City officials and developers have worked in recent years to address that gap. An Affordable Housing Fund — a property tax levy approved by voters in 2016 — has contributed to the construction or preservation of more than 400 housing units and has helped make Vancouver more livable for all of its residents.
Adding to that livability is one of the primary perks of the Waterfront Gateway proposal, but there are others. The project would tie together the downtown core, serving us a hub for recent development and retail outlets in every direction. By improving access between Esther Short Park and the Columbia River, it would encourage visitors to see all of downtown and not solely the attractive waterfront development or the coming Terminal 1 development along the river.
As for parking, initial plans call for 545 spaces in two structures either underground or at the podium levels of the buildings. That would include parking for City Hall employees and visitors, and we will leave it to experts to determine whether those plans are adequate.
Patrick Quinton, executive director of Vancouver’s City Center Redevelopment Authority, said: “This is going to fill in the area. We want to create a unique district to attract a lot of people to downtown but also make people feel like it’s one continuous downtown experience.”
In creating that experience, city councilors should act judiciously in handing out tax breaks for developers. Incentives for affordable housing units are sensible; such units are needed, they benefit the community, and they typically do not provide the profit developers could see from other projects. But incentives for other types of construction are not necessary; the area already is desirable for developers.
One of the primary questions that still requires answering involves the Webber Building, south of the Vancouver Convention Center. Incorporating the century-old building into development plans would preserve a piece of the city’s history and elegantly tie that history to the future. As local historian Pat Jollota has written: “It is also the only structure of historic value in that area. It deserves to be saved. It deserves to be used.”
That remains to be determined. But to this point, what we have seen of the Vancouver Waterfront Gateway represents exciting possibilities for downtown.