Father Matthew Johnson of St. James makes a point at a hearing at City Hall in Vancouver this summer. (Jay Black (c) 2008)
The parish that lives in one of our poorest neighbourhoods in the Vancouver area-and in Canada-the Downtown East Side, had a request of the City of Vancouver's Development Permit Board this summer.

This board is a group of city bureaucrats whom the Vancouver City Council has given responsibility for making sure that building developments conform to the zoning laws before they're given the go-ahead.

Father Matthew Johnson, speaking before the board for St. James', asked that it "press the 'pause' button" on a large condominium building planned for 58 West Hastings Street, until the city comes up with a "realistic low income housing policy-and deliver on it, before more citizens of this community are displaced."

The development is part of what has been called the gentrification of the Downtown East Side. As other areas of the city fill up, and the demand for housing remains strong (despite threats of recession), developers are moving in.

However, Vancouver has a homelessness crisis. Unfortunately, this development will do little, if anything, to solve it. It will create housing, but not for poor people. At today's prices, even though the 160 units will be small (as tiny as 540 square feet in size), they'll still cost far more than most people living in the neighbourhood's can afford.

The Development Permit Board, noting that "there is no obligation on any individual developer to provide non-market housing," approved the development. Still, the board claimed that "the City's objective is no displacement of low-income housing stock."

In the past five years, despite increases in population, the stock of low-income housing in the Downtown East Side has decreased-the city says by only 41 units. More low-income housing is coming, it promises.

"I'm not against a market economy, business, profit or property development," Father Johnson told the board. "But these need always to be balanced with the interests and well-being of those things which are most sacred-like human communities, and human beings formed in the image of God."

It's good to see St. James' take a public stand and keep emphatically reminding decision-makers of the fundamental need for decent housing for all. Many more Anglicans and parishes should follow the lead of St. James'.