Last March in PT, Ian Robertson commented on the emergence of ‘poor doors’ in “Development: Arts Space and Poor Doors” at a development on Main Street:




On the 7th floor, there is one small Non-Market amenity space shown, clearly separated from all of the rest of the building’s spaces, whereas there is market amenity space on the 8th, 12th, and roof. …
It could be argued that the cultural amenity is ‘for the artists only’ but I would doubt that in practice this would be the case … there is no information given (that I’ve seen … and I haven’t had time to go through everything yet) on the manner of programming this space.  Even the exit stairs are coded by Market vs Non-Market (though since this is a scissors stair, there will be an alarmed fire door which will allow access by both Market and Non-Market to each stair … otherwise the Non-Market has only one emergency egress.
Clearly though, the Market gets generous lobby space, the Non-Market has little. The Market gets lots of amenity space, the Non-Market gets little. The Market is visible to all, the Non-Market is on side streets or close to the alleyway. The Market units have 800 sf+ for a 2 bedroom, the Non-Market is ~600 sf.
Also, the way that the project was advertised to the arts community (from an email sent out by the East Side Culture Crawl, presumably with the wording as presented by the city to them, in that it certainly reads like someone from the project, rather than someone describing the project) … this perpetuates the narrative of the failed ‘starving’ low-income artist. [“For further information, and to view the draft designs mentioned above, click here to visit the project website.”]
If an artist becomes successful – must they move? How can there be an arts community fostered without long-term community members? If an artist does become successful – would they get then to move to the exalted Market-Zone? (and/or, would they HAVE to move?)
Billing it as an affordable, inclusive arts community – great, I love it. Building it as a segregated community dividing arts and non-arts is exactly the opposite of a vibrant inclusive community ….
This isn’t to say that it isn’t great that there is a desire to make more affordable units. And I love the arts community, so its also great that the city wants to house artists affordably. This building, however, is to have 30 affordable units and 230 market units … so only 13 percent low income. The Olympic Village was supposed to have 25 percent low income, and got whittled back to ~12.5 percent, and this was widely ridiculed. That this new project starts out at 13 percent seems to cement this as the new target.  13 percent is well below ANY stated target for affordable housing.
The issue has now gone mainstream, in Vancitybuzz, the CBC and other media with another project in the West End at 1171 Jervis.  Here’s the coverage in the Globe: “Vancouver developer accused of using ‘poor door’ for low-income residents”

The social housing would be in the building’s three-story podium base with a Davie Street entrance, while the condo units would be accessed from Jervis Street.

Critics have slammed the configuration, sometimes referred to as a “poor door,” as discriminatory. New York is reconsidering a rule that allows separate entrances for such mixed buildings under its Inclusionary Housing Program.

“If you’re advocating for social mix but then creating a very clear division in terms of who gets to go in what door, it creates an obvious barrier,” said DJ Larkin, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society. “People are basically outed within their own community. How does that help people engage with community? How does that help people fit in?”

1171-jervis-condo-buildingBrian Jackson, Vancouver’s general manager of planning, said the city has traditionally added social housing units to condo developments as separate buildings, as in the revived Woodward’s project. The integration of social housing into condominiums is new.

“The social housing units come to the city as a parcel of land – in this case it’s called an ‘airspace parcel’ – that we own and then seek a non-profit to operate,” Mr. Jackson said.

A separate structure – with its own entrance, mechanics and elevators – helps identify the social housing, making it “much easier to describe legally and maintain over the long term,” he said.

“We don’t have to have [a separate entrance], but in terms of the long-term operations, it’s better if you separate them out so we can be as independent as we can from the larger strata corporation.”

The social housing will not get “second-class status,” Mr. Jackson said.

“The entrance is actually on Davie, the main street. The entrance to the condominium is on the side street,” he said. “In this case, the expression ‘poor door’ doesn’t apply because it has equal or in fact higher prominence than the condominium.”

Three to five similar projects are in the discussion phase, Mr. Jackson said.

He added that some could have a common entrances and elevators.

Gordon Price, a former Vancouver councillor and director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University, said factors to consider include whether the social housing component is architecturally defined, what amenities are involved and whether the social housing residents pay for them. (Regarding the latter, Mr. Jackson said no.)

“In some cases, it may just make sense for the convenience of the residents to have a separate entrance,” said Mr. Price, who viewed the issue as site-specific.

“Often these issues become part of a larger debate about class, distinction and equity in society: ‘Are we dividing ourselves up into rich and poor?’ So, the ‘poor door’ thing hits beautifully as a way of having that debate – but there are these other considerations that go into the discussion.”

On-site amenities for the condo units include “exceptionally large balconies,” roof terraces and access to a large amenity room and guest suite, according to a design plan from NSDA Architects. Most social housing units will have balconies and access to large, common grade-level indoor/outdoor amenity spaces.

“Although one building, the complex has been designed to function and appear as two separate but interconnected buildings,” the plan states.

Ms. Larkin said a culture shift is needed to reach a true social mix.

“If you actually want, and believe, that mixed housing can work, you actually have to encourage people to mix, to become one community.”

The Development Permit Board approved the proposal this week; the next step is to get a building permit.

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  1. I appreciate your nuanced comments in the Globe, Gordon.

    We have tons of policies that effectively keep lower-income people out of entire neighbourhoods and cities – architectural choices that keep them out of *some parts of a private building* are not even on the same level. I can only assume people make a big deal out of this because it makes good headlines and lets them call attention to wider issues.

    Larkin’s complaints could just as easily apply to a 100% subsidised building next to an unrelated market building.

  2. Segregated units in one complex (where I get to use the roof-top pool because I pay market but you don’t because you’re in social housing) is NOT the model we want to use.

    With the new definition of social housing, the City is in a real conundrum — how can you include all units in the numbers for social housing if they are segregated?

    We’re moving backwards!

    Co-operative housing is the model we need to use; everyone gets treated the same, whether you are low-income or not. If you don’t like it, go live somewhere else.

    1. Arguably, the tenants would have public access to a pool at their local community centre.

      Ultimately, it seems like the cleanest route – at least on optics, though more expensive from a construction perspective, is to build two separate buildings on separate parcels. In addition, social housing need not be built on multi-million dollar waterfront property (like at Olympic Village) so the added cost of a separate building (and the sense of community and sense of place that a separate building provides) could be recouped by building on cheaper land.

  3. What about the legal and insurance aspects in a building where there is no separation? The social housing tenants could not be subject to the Strata Act, so the Strata Council would have no legal recourses available for tenants breaking rules or by laws. Therefore, without separation an entirely different legal structure would have to be defined, designed and written into law. Even as it is these projects must have novel legal structures.

    Having said that, there are already many existing social residential projects in the city with different entrances for different people. Day visitor entrances and completely different residential entrances in social housing buildings are quite common.

    Perhaps Larkin doesn’t get out much.

    1. The Strata would have every avenue under the BC Tenancy Act to enforce rules, no? Its just that the Strata would be the Landlord. Landlords have plenty of ability for recourse + enforce rules.

      If you require tenants to have rental insurance, thats the insurance sorted.

      Or is this somehow too simple?

      1. Is the Strata Council the landlord and a non-profit the operator of the tenants’ section?

        “The social housing units come to the city as a parcel of land – in this case it’s called an ‘airspace parcel’ – that we own and then seek a non-profit to operate,” Mr. Jackson said.

        Brian Jackson, “… it’s better if you separate them out so we can be as independent as we can from the larger strata corporation.”

        More clarification of the legal structure(s) are needed.

        1. I agree that with these extra degrees of independence, the legal issues become more difficult … taking something which could seem to be relatively simple, and making it less so. Undoubtedly more clarification needed.

          An additional note … the plans on the city website have been amended, and the ‘poor door’ is now much less obviously so visually. All the other issues remain, however, but it is good to see that there is less obvious hierarchy between the Market and Non-Market entrances.

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