Hundreds of citizens pack city council for first Edgewater Casino hearing

A crowd gathers outside of the W 12 Avenue entrance to city hall

The corridors of Vancouver City Hall were packed tonight, as hundreds of people showed up to express their distaste over the proposed Edgewater Casino expansion.

Before being allowed into the building, protesters jammed the entrance waiting for the security lockdown to cease, a “standard procedure” according to councillor Andrea Reimer, who entered through the Broadway entrance.

While the anger could be felt from all directions, with various groups lobbing words like ‘greed’ and expressing a strong distaste for what they felt the proposal would mean for the city, a small group of casino workers stood off to the side, wondering why nobody wanted to hear their side of the story.

Edgewater employees

“They help me out a lot,” said Edgewater employee Elela Eremina. A Russian immigrant and 13 year casino employee, Eremina said she was recently diagnosed with cancer and that the company had been quite supportive of her needs.

Beside Eremina stood her friend and colleague Shelly Holden, a 38-year-old blackjack dealer that’s worked at Edgewater for over two years.

“It’s pretty heart breaking to see this many people so adamantly opposed to it,” she said, her eyes watering up indicating she was holding back tears.

“They’re making it more of an anger issue than it is.”

Holden said the critics of the development were ignoring the creation of jobs, expected to number some 1,900 full-time equivalent positions.

“Nobody still has a solid argument as to why [there should be] no casino.”

Gaming addiction

Holden pointed to GameSense representatives who are tasked with identifying problem gamblers, around 4.6 per cent of the population, and providing them with services to deal with their addictions.

“You go online and you don’t get that,” she said. “BCLC seems to be pretty much supporting online gambling and they’re forgetting about the people who actually need jobs.”

Those opposed certainly made their presence felt, with several large banners exclaiming opposition to the casino expansion. The group Vancouver Not Vegas, which distributed signs addressed to various councillors opposing the expansion, had collected over 2,800 signatures for its online petition by the time council proceedings began.

Opposition from an unlikely source

Among the 163 speakers in line to speak was Glyn Townson, spokesman for the BC Persons with AIDS Society.

“I think the politicians need to hear the issues around this that they might not be fully aware of,” he said. Townson expressed a degree of confidence in the mayor and council, but added that he worried about the transparency of gaming funds.

“They’re not giving the percentages they said they were going to in the first place … In the beginning where it was 50 per cent, now [it’s] 30 per cent,” he said.

Townson said that his group depends upon an annual dividend of $210,000 in order to finance much of their operations. While told there would be no cuts to that funding, he said he recently found out that the group will have to budget for $50,000 less.

Saying he had witnessed the effects first-hand of these type of cuts on social programming, like arts and athletics, Townson said his group wanted “A full counting of where that money is going.”

A crowd pleaser

While the highly contenious session of council got underway, the crowd became noticeably unsettled by 8:00 p.m. A drunken individual, who was seen consuming alcohol outside of the council chambers, walked up to the BC Pavilion Corporation speaker and interrupted his presentation.

Security officials asked the crowd if the man should be removed and the group answered with a resounding “Yes!”

It was, perhaps, the least contentious issue of the night.

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Homelessness in Vancouver still a bleeding wound, council reports

City Council meeting, Feb. 1, 2011

Mayor Gregor Robertson begins the Feb. 1 council session adorned in traditional East Asian attires. The mayor welcomed members of the Asian community by wishing them a happy new year in Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean.


This month’s city staff report on the progress to shelter the Vancouver’s street homeless by 2015 expressed a mixture of positive and negative sentiments.

City manager Penny Ballem said that while 450 spaces were still needed to meet the goal, a worthy commitment from the community could make this a reality.

The dollar figure of such a commitment has been estimated to be $20 million per 100 spaces, in addition to an annual maintenance fee of $1 million.

“We have a lot of momentum,” Ballem said during last Tuesday’s council meeting. “Let’s see what we can do this year.”

Ballem estimated that by 2020 the demand for spaces will increase by another 750 people, leading to a potential bill of $240 million should the city provide needed real estate.

With such a high financial commitment needed to provide for the city’s growing homeless population, there could be worry that a long-term solution is being avoided.

Councillor Ellen Woodsworth echoed concerns that the city is plagued by an underlying racism, which sees groups like aboriginal women left behind.

The report also stressed that 80 per cent of the homeless in Vancouver suffer from one or more health concerns, a significant underlying factor pushing many into destitution.

Despite this, advocacy groups in the city that are largely responsible for providing for the homeless are careful to avoid speculation that the city’s plan is anything but correct.

“Union Gospel Mission is encouraged by the way city council is going. We hope to be part of that solution,” spokesman Derek Weiss said.

“To the point of full-disclosure, the city of Vancouver has provided us with $1.4 million for the building of a new building,” Weiss added.

While UGM is pleased to be receiving a significant portion of the money allotted to tackling homelessness in the city, Weiss did admit that concerns like those put forward by Woodsworth have some weight.

“All women and particularly aboriginal women do represent a higher percentage of people that go through extreme struggles on the Downtown Eastside. That’s something that needs to be looked at.”

Weiss said that groups like UGM are not capable of dealing with the more extreme health issues faced by many of the city’s homeless. While this is a contributing factor to their suffering, the most a group like UGM can do is refer them to a doctor.

“We try not to be discouraged, we live on hope. You don’t spend very long in the Downtown Eastside before you start to cling to hope,” Weiss said.

While the city continues to spend millions to meet its goal, one thing remains clear. The growth of homelessness in Vancouver is expected to continue towards 2015 and beyond.

Vancouver laneway houses not proving an affordable option

Jason Oliver is the millwork shop leader for Smallworks, one of the biggest manufacturers of laneway houses in Vancouver.


City council’s decision to support laneway houses in Vancouver gives students more options when searching for accommodation, but prices still remain high in college neighbourhoods.

An October administrative report showed that as part of their affordable housing strategy, Vancouver City Council recognized laneway houses in 2009 as an “opportunity for adding to rental housing supply across the city.”

While affordability has been offered as one of the primary benefits of laneway houses, rental advertisements tell a different story. In the Langara College area, the cost per bedroom of these units currently averages over $1,060.

“My next door neighbours have a laneway house that’s on 21st,” said Tracey Greer, a 23-year-old history student at Langara. “They’re charging $1,200.”

Greer said she thinks many landlords feel they can get away with charging high rents in Vancouver due to the heavy demand for housing in the city.

“People will always pay, so [landlords] are going to charge a lot.”

Arts student Kylie Schlotter also said rental prices for the units are too high.

“They’re over-charging. It’s supposed to be more affordable,” she said.

The city council report detailing the first 100 laneway houses in the city estimated that the rental rates range between $1,000 and $2,100 for one and two bedroom units.

Laneway houses typically take the place of an alleyway garage on most average-sized properties.

Of the first 100 laneway houses built in the city, only five were the more affordable studio size units.

One of the biggest manufacturers of laneway houses in Vancouver is Smallworks, which has been pre-fabricating the houses for over five years.

Smallworks owner Jake Fry said that despite the novelty and high rental rates of laneway houses in Vancouver, the structures still have the potential to improve on the availability of low-income housing in the city.

“I think it will help out students and lots of people in making the city an affordable place,” he said. “[But] people coming to us are already going [for] a slightly higher-end unit, it’s not like they’re looking at affordable housing.”

Smallworks employees fabricate the door frame of a new laneway house


While companies like Smallworks tend to focus on building structures for families, Fry said the real potential for student housing rests with units being constructed alongside a new property.

“Those laneway homes that are going in with the principle structure, they actually don’t need the same cost recovery,” said Fry, who estimated that building a laneway rental property alongside a new home could reduce the overall cost by as much as 30 per cent.