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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Gentrification and the Four Sisters: towards a shared inner city Allueva, Raul C.


Adequate and affordable housing for low-income residents is essential for the well being of the community. In the City of Vancouver, the majority of available low-income housing is located in the inner city and, in particular, the area around the Downtown Eastside neighborhood. The continued loss of units due to redevelopment and conversion is a serious concern in relation to the lagging replacement of units. This study explores the relationship between inner city gentrification and social housing provision. It looks at current gentrification trends in Canadian inner cities and uses the case example of the Four Sisters Housing Cooperative in the Downtown Eastside neighborhood to illustrate a possible model for future housing. Gentrification is shown to be a major factor behind the increased pressure for residential development and the conversion of existing units in the inner city. A second contributing factor is the planned redevelopment of large parts of the inner city. Both are considered by-products of the restructuring of the urban economy from manufacturing to the service industries, which increases competition for and around the central business district. The study provides a cursory examination of current theory on gentrification with an emphasis on the impact on social housing provision. A number of factors are shown to influence the demand for residential accommodation in Vancouver’s inner city. These are: -the favourable central location of the inner city relative to suburban locations; -the shift of the economy to the service sector, which has resulted in the growth of residential opportunities to capture the growing market of downtown workers; -the increase in tertiary and quaternary employment; -new consumer preferences which value the inner city lifestyle; -significant demographic changes related to the age, household size and composition, employment profile, and income of inner-city population; -the continued economic dominance of the downtown. Research carried out in various Canadian cities indicates that gentrification is becoming more complex, often moderate or gradual, and potentially chaotic. The observed encroachment of development activity, growth in the number of families, and the prognosis for new residents with a higher socioeconomic status, is a concern in terms of the future ability to develop housing for local residents and establish policy for the protection of existing private housing. The study shows that the Four Sisters Cooperative has achieved both practical and political goals by providing secure, long-term accommodation for Downtown Eastside residents, providing further economic stability in the area, and adding to the needed stock of family housing. Through its income base, the Four Sisters also caters to a rising demand for low-end market housing in the inner city. The new advocacy for family accommodation in the inner city on the part of the Vancouver Planning Department is evidence of the success of the project. The findings suggest that, as the Canadian inner city becomes more economically and socially diverse, initiatives like the Four Sisters are uniquely suited to respond effectively to the future need for long-term, low-income accommodation. However, the Four Sisters model is unlikely to be readily replicated in the difficult economic times ahead, particularly given the deep level of subsidy that it requires and the current fiscal constraints which all levels of government are under. This implies that future housing solutions must be formulated through government leadership and in cooperation with the community, all levels of government, the non-profit sector, and the private sector.

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