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Tapas bars and bottles and cans: when your neighbourhood leaves you behind

Losing your favorite tapas restaurant? Has the source of your income disappeared? You may be in a gentrified neighbourhood.

La Bodega: Yaletown holdout going the way of the dodo
La Bodega: not long for this world

I read the news today, oh boy

We must soon say goodbye to La Bodega, that tapas restaurant and bar on Howe at Drake. La Bodega is one of the last vestiges of pre-gentrification Yaletown. You will not be too surprised to learn what will be replacing La Bodega: a condo building.

I just found out this week, but the redevelopment plan has been in motion for over a year. Not sure when La Bodega will have to close, but the new high-rise is scheduled for completion in winter or spring of 2016. Goodbye, Alcachofas Don Carlos; hello, high-rise. Que lástima.

1265-1281 Howe Street will be home to a 41-floor condo development, with a handful of rental units and townhouses thrown in.

From the rezoning notes:

The proposed building would have a floor space ratio (FSR) of 9.58, a height of 375 feet, and contain 321 parking stalls. Council will also consider a Single Room Accommodation (SRA) Demolition Permit.

Wait, hang on.

Looking at the project data (pdf), we can see that there is no affordable-housing aspect to the plan.

SROs disappear from Howe & Drake

The proposed condo tower features those typical (i.e. boring) new-construction floorplans, and also includes 10,000 square feet of artist workspace; part of a CAC (Community Amenity Contributions) scheme. CACs are basically a way for developments to secure more ambitious rezoning allowances in exchange for promising to give something back to the surrounding neighbourhood.

However, it's not clear that such CACs do much for the health of a changing block, or that these artists' spaces are even viable as advertised, especially when 11 SRO units are to be removed; but that's another discussion for another day. The first thing you are going to notice when La Bodega is forced to closed is that your movement patterns change: you gotta find a new tapas scene, because the whole block is now looking a lot like this:

The Maddox: Howe & Drake

The Maddox: Howe & Drake. Kitty-corner to La Bodega.

The ripple extends beyond just the loss of a tapas bar. These developmental changes trigger deeper shifts in the neighbourhood, whose results can be hard to predict.

I recently spoke with Douglas King, a lawyer and barrister with Pivot Legal Society, about what happens to a neighbourhood's homeless population when that neighbourhood gentrifies. I had imagined that the short answer would be "bad things", but wanted a bit more clarity.

King said that when a block is redeveloped, low-income housing options get thin on the ground if they don't completely vanish. A building that features below-market rentals as a CAC will not offer as many of such units as existed before.

"It’s safe to say that the city has made it clear that it’s encouraging development in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside," said King. "Anything west of Main Street is fair game."

This is to say that the city has let the developers off the leash, though it doesn't take a genius to see what happens to to the makeup of a neighbourhood when block after block of affordable or subsidized housing is replaced by unaffordable cubes.

Sustainable? No. Profitable in the short term? Yes. King said, "The city seems unwilling to think about sustainable development when it comes to the housing market in the city." That's a diplomatic way of putting it.

Less diplomatic would be to say (again) that the city is addicted to the income generated by real-estate development. 

However, King mentioned that the stricter zoning around Oppenheimer park has been a bit of a stumbling block toward eastward development. Still, he notes, “My feeling is that there has been a push further east.”

(That feeling would seem to be correct: look at rezoning along the Hastings Corridor.)

Whose streets? Someone else's streets

Also, we have SRO residents and those who live on the streets full-time. King said that low-income residents don’t have as big a problem with homeless people as do higher-income residents. So, new buildings bring more private security, more of a sense that the newcomers have something to protect. This has a profound consequence to those living on the street: their neighbourhood is no longer theirs.

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