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Big trouble at little mountain

 Megaphone (Canada) 18 May 2019

(Originally published: 03/2010) Bulldozers and heavy equipment have torn down and chewed up the oldest - and one of the most successful - social housing communities in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Housing Minister Rich Coleman, in a deal with Holborn Developments, plans to replace the 224 units of social housing at Little Mountain with significantly smaller homes, building a mix of market and social housing that will include 1,200 -1,500 market condominiums. Megaphone’s David Chudnovskey shares his view on what the redevelopment of the Little Mountain site and the politics behind it means to him, Vancouver and its homeless population. (777 words) - By David Chudnovskey

Megaphone 1

Courtesy of Megaphone

Bulldozers and heavy equipment have torn down and chewed up the oldest - and one of the most successful - social housing communities in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

 

Housing Minister Rich Coleman, in a deal with Holborn Developments, plans to replace the 224 units of social housing at Little Mountain with significantly smaller homes, building a mix of market and social housing that will include 1,200 -1,500 market condominiums.

 

Why has there been so much opposition to the Coleman and Campbell government's so-called "redevelopment" of Little Mountain social housing?  Because it's the wrong plan, using the wrong mechanisms, for the wrong purposes.

 

Just a few years ago, Little Mountain was alive and thriving. Unlike some social housing developments, residents interacted successfully with their wider community.

 

Now Little Mountain is no more, and there was no reason for that to happen. For years, residents and their supporters called on Coleman and BC Housing to phase the redevelopment so that most of the people who lived there could stay until the project was finished.

 

Failure to phase the development meant emptying 224 of units of habitable housing. That was lunacy in the midst of the worst homelessness crisis since the Great Depression. Some of the units have been empty for two years.

 

If all goes well the replacement social housing should be completed in three years. But will it? Coleman announced 14 city housing sites in November 2007; he keeps reannouncing them every couple of months. Some of them were supposed to be finished by the Olympics, but weren't. Does anyone believe these 224 units of replacement social housing at Little Mountain will be finished on schedule? Some estimate that it will be 10 years before any housing is completed.

 

Holborn has said the replacement social housing will be built first, but that commitment doesn't appear in any documents - neither the city's nor the developer's. The way to avoid any fiasco is to get a written guarantee from the developer that the social housing will be built and completed first.

 

Why in the world does the government need to privatize land to build social housing?  If they wanted a new park would they sell off nine-tenths of Stanley Park and some day, maybe, buy land somewhere else for parks and then tell us they're being "innovative"? Not a chance. But that's what Coleman is doing at Little Mountain.

 

BC Housing could easily have leased out parcels of the Little Mountain site - for real innovative housing - and collected rent forever.  The province would have more control over the type of development, and our grandchildren would have some control the next time the site is redeveloped.

 

And why just replace 224 units of social housing: do we really need 1,200 or 1,500 more expensive condos in Vancouver? Thousands of people are homeless and tens of thousands of families struggle to afford a place to live. Little Mountain could be a model, with triple the number of social housing units, co-ops and rental housing that people can afford. But that's not Coleman's priority.

 

Here's some advice: always watch out for the spin. Coleman has said again and again that the units at Little Mountain were unsafe and inhabitable. He wouldn't listen to those who begged him to spend a few dollars and upgrade the apartments, so people desperately in need of housing would have some- place to live until the redevelopment. Coleman said it couldn't be done.

 

Now BC Housing has upgraded a few units so the last few tenants can stay for a while. That's exactly what was suggested for years for all 224 units - precisely what Coleman said was impossible.

 

Worse still, Coleman has peddled the notion that his critics are against any redevelopment, that they are "anti-progress" and against change. It's a lie. Virtually every one of Coleman's critics said every time they spoke that redevelopment is a good idea if it's done right. But Coleman keeps on spinning and the media eats it up.

 

Residents were promised consultation about what will be a massive development in the geographic centre of the city - consultation with the developer, with the province, with BC Housing and with the city. None of that happened. Consultation with former residents, who are now scattered across the city and beyond, is a dead issue now.

 

What will consultation mean from here on in?  I'll bet neighbours will be asked for not much more than their input on the colour of paint on the trim of the social housing units. Don't expect much citizen input on the hundreds of high-end, high-rise condos that are the real reason Little Mountain had to die.

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