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Muddled handling of Vancouver's Little Mountain angers residents

BC Housing and the City of Vancouver are listening to ex-residents and advocates of Little Mountain housing site, but for…

By Katie Dangerfield , in City Feature story , on December 2, 2009 Tags: , ,

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BC Housing and the City of Vancouver are listening to ex-residents and advocates of Little Mountain housing site, but for many it is two years too late.

Demolition crews, cranes, and rubble have taken over the 15-acre land in Vancouver once occupied by BC’s oldest public housing development.

Nearly 600 people were displaced throughout the province. For them, nearly everything that represented Little Mountain is gone, yet the public consultation is only just beginning.

For nearly two and a half years, angry residents demanded a greater say over the redevelopment of Little Mountain. They protested BC Housing, the private developers, and the City – all of which were involved in deciding the future of the social housing site.

On Dec. 5, the City and the private developers of the site are holding the first public consultation of Little Mountain, a 15-acre site in the heart of Vancouver.

Yet Little Mountain no longer exists – the site is in shambles, and former residents are scattered throughout the province.

“The public consultation process is just starting now,” said Tommy Thomson, a former resident of Little Mountain. “But how are the tenants supposed to participate when they’ve been displaced all over the place?”

Who’s in charge?

Signs protesting the redevelopment of Little Mountain remain while demolition begins.
Signs protesting the redevelopment of Little Mountain remain while demolition begins.

In March 2008, The Holborn Group was announced as the developers of the site. Since then, the City of Vancouver has been ready to begin the public consultation process.

“BC Housing and the Holborn Group were not ready to come forward to start the process.  We’ve been ready for two years,” said city project planner, Matt Shillito.

However, BC Housing seems to think differently.

“Public consultations are handled by the City and Holborn,” said Fergus McCann, manager of community relations at BC Housing.

Despite the confusion over public consultation, demolition continues.

The developers are modeling the site into a high-density mixed market project. This consists of condos and apartments sold at market price, combined with subsidized housing.

Social housing will be replaced, but the rest of the site’s design remains unclear. The forthcoming information session might provide some details about Little Mountain’s future.

“It’s more of an information session – a meet and greet. We will tell the people what we want to do, and the process involved,” said Holborn Group president Joo Kim Tiah.

For two years, the buildings sat empty before the developers bought out the site. Now, the nearly barren location will sit untouched for another two years, while permits for re-zoning and a development plan are put together.

Normally the City of Vancouver requires a development plan before demolishing a site. The Holborn Group received a demolition permit without a development plan for the site.

“There is no plan for what is actually going to be built. There should have been a plan before the housing was demolished, and tenants should have been consulted,” said Thomson.

Listen to Lauren Gill, a member of the advocacy group CALM, explain why she cares about the future of Little Mountain:

[audio:https://thethunderbird.ca/html/wp-content/themes/WpAdvNewspaper/audio/LaurenGill.mp3]

Financial confusion

The sale of the site has not fully gone through yet, and BC Housing will not receive the funds until re-zoning begins. When the site is completely sold, the province promises that money will go back into social housing.

“We will put the finances half in the city and half in the province,” said McCann.

Little Mountain was BC’s largest development of family public housing. This type of social housing specifically targets families or individuals with low incomes, making it a very community-oriented site.

However, the sale of Little Mountain will not go into creating more family public housing. The promise of reimbursement will go into supportive housing, homes meant for those with mental health and drug addiction issues.

“They are fully different things. The province is trying to change the meaning of social housing,” said Kia Salomons, of the Little Mountain lobby group called CALM.

“They are marginalizing the meaning. Supportive housing is different. It’s for people who can’t live on their own.”

A recession, together, with a lack of a national housing strategy, has caused the provincial government to raise funds by selling off lands such as Little Mountain.

Learning from Toronto

A similar housing redevelopment played out in Toronto’s Regent Park, Canada’s oldest and largest social housing project. The redevelopment is very similar to the Little Mountain issue, but in that case, public consultation between the government and the community flowed fluidly.

“There was public consultation from the start,” said Thomson. “The redevelopment involved the tenants to see how they want the site redesigned.”

In BC, the province sent out letters informing Little Mountain occupants and the community of the redevelopment.

“BC says they have consulted. But they only consulted people on where they want to move,” said Thomson.

Residents were given options of relocation sites throughout the province. When the 224 social housing units are replaced over the next years, they also have the option of returning.

The Holborn Group’s vision of a high-density mixed market system means residents will not be returning to a unit of green space, family housing, and community gardens.

“It is too crazy that this happened. It is just crazy,” said Salomons.

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