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COPE urges City to use viaduct land for affordable housing

The Coalition of Progressive Electors yesterday issued a statement rejecting Vancouver council's proposal for the future use of land surrounding the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, and called for a plan centered around affordable housing.

The municipal party is calling for 20 per cent of the land to be budgeted for affordable housing in order to fight the "homelessness crisis" in Vancouver, according to former COPE councillor Tim Louis.

"Where those viaducts currently exist, if they're removed, let's not replace them with more glass towers out of the price range of most Vancouverites, but instead low and medium rise apartment buildings with people from a mix of incomes living there," Louis said.

The City held a series of open house forums last week in order to present the proposal for the removal of the viaducts and gauge public opinion.

The City's plan would reroute traffic around the current viaduct area, and budget the majority of the land for public parks and walkways connecting eastside neighborhoods.

Louis said the City has a "golden opportunity" to create a mixed income community.

According to Louis, $72 million has been previously collected from developers as Development Cost Levies, and "that pot has sat idle."

"We say, let's put the money to good use. Let's use the money to build social housing," Louis said.

COPE states that the City's current plan overlooks key opportunities, such as leasing the land rather than selling it so that it retains control and generates a continuous source of revenue. Leasing the land would also ensure that any lift in the property value would be captured by the City, according to Louis.

Louis also criticized the plan for not involving the communities of Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside more.

"Those two neighbourhoods have been telling city council for a long time that we need to address the crisis of homelessness and our plan would do that," Louis said.

The City's proposal does name the opportunity for affordable housing as one of the objectives in tearing down the viaducts, and specifically cites the blocks near Main and Prior Streets as areas that could potentially hold affordable housing.

Louis said that simply having the possibility of affordable housing isn't enough.

"What we're looking for is clear measurable commitments to the amount of social housing," he said. "They need to make it a condition of the redevelopment that 20 per cent of the unit is devoted to affordable housing."

A member of city council could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Hanah Redman is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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