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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Proposed redevelopmet of social housing in Vancouver

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The following is the entire text of a communication from a community group that I think is worth supporting, if only to object to the process that the BC government seems wedded to, which is utterly contrary to both the spirit and the letter of local urban planning






Little Mountain Housing has been an outstanding success. Since 1954 it has provided a safe and wholesome living environment for people whose needs or means would not allow them to obtain adequate housing at market rates. Relations between tenants and residents in the surrounding neighbourhood have by and large been excellent, and the community as a whole has been very successful at instilling ethnic and racial tolerance. An open, ground-oriented layout has fostered supervision of children and neighbourliness, while providing sufficient privacy. Families have benefited greatly from supportive social, educational and recreational services and amenities close at hand. As a result, thousands of children at risk of becoming involved in criminal activity, drug addiction and prostitution have instead gone on to lead productive lives.

The broader community values Little Mountain Housing and wants this success to continue during and following redevelopment. This is reflected in the Riley Park/South Cambie Community Visions Directions, approved by Vancouver City Council in 2005, in which 85 % of survey respondents agreed that redevelopment of large sites “should involve the community, particularly residents and tenants of those sites early (and often) in identifying options and in refining the proposal.” Background information explains that “Vision participants spoke of the need for ongoing and meaningful involvement to ensure that residents’ interests are reflected in the development proposals. Participants put particular emphasis on the need to engage the resident tenants of Little Mountain Housing to ensure their voices and interests are included.”

That is why the community was shocked and dismayed at the manner in which BC Housing has thus far proceeded with the redevelopment. Crucial decisions are being made without community involvement. These include the apparent rejection of phased construction (which would minimize relocation and community upheaval) and their intent to convert the property to nearly 90 % market housing, at more than eight times the existing residential density. Redevelopment under the current zoning, which is supported by the Community Vision, would more than quadruple the 234 existing apartments, but rezoning for buildings over four stories is not supported. There were concerns that highrise towers would not be conducive to a socially supportive environment, especially for low-income families with children, and that a sudden and massive increase of population on the 15-acre site could overwhelm the neighbourhood’s social and physical infrastructure and its character. Given Little Mountain Housing’s more than half-century of outstanding success, it would be folly to ignore such considerations. A transparent and comprehensive process involving the tenants and neighbourhood residents should and must occur before rezoning is considered.

A faulty premise starts a chain of bad decisions, leading to failure. The premise is to exploit the current Vancouver housing boom by using this land as a “cash-cow” to fund low-cost housing in other municipalities. While we recognize that many BC communities have similar needs, we see no virtue in “robbing Peter to pay Paul”—especially considering the budget surplus and the minuscule amounts that BC has committed to housing. If this were a secondary aim it would not be such a pitfall, but when the goal is to squeeze every last nickel of development potential from this public asset, more important considerations fall by the wayside. Forgotten is the crucial maxim “first do no harm.” The rush to hand over a “blank slate” to a private developer in a “hot” market leads to a rejection of phased construction and abandonment of community continuity and meaningful input. Massive forced relocation means children and youth uprooted from schools, daycare, cultural supports, and exposure to unsuitable surroundings. For adults it can mean longer job commutes, less family time and loss of trusted personal and social contacts.

Pressure on BC Housing staff to relocate more than 500 residents has already resulted in reprehensible—possibly illegal—treatment of tenants. Residents have come forward with credible accounts of coercion, misleading information, and even breach of confidentiality. The problem is systemic, though many are afraid to speak out because they are over a barrel due to the extreme shortage of housing. Some fear that if they don’t sign a “transfer agreement” and accept inadequate or inappropriate accommodation they will end up homeless. In addition to the psychological harm inflicted, this approach will result in homes or land sitting vacant for many months or even years, and will produce severe construction-related disruption (added to that caused by the nearby Olympic facilities). The likely outcome will be a project that is much disliked, and not well designed to satisfy this community’s foremost need: affordable housing for families with children.

The tenants of Little Mountain Housing are not interchangeable parts, nor are they numbers on a ledger. The CityPlan Directions concerning redevelopment of Little Mountain Housing are based on thoughtful consideration of the real needs of flesh-and-blood individuals living in a real community. Our primary goal must be to assist families at risk and improve lives—not to enable policies which at first glance might appear to be penny-wise, but prove pound-foolish after the real costs are assessed.

Community Advocates for Little Mountain are determined to see the creation of a socially and environmentally sustainable mixed-income community that is second to none in the world. Excellence can be achieved if our Province and City share these goals and commit to a humane redevelopment process that values local knowledge and community input. In this, our time of need, we call upon all concerned citizens for moral, practical and political support.


Phone: 604-773-0072


Please sign our on-line petition:

Written by Stephen Rees

May 7, 2007 at 7:37 am

Posted in housing, Urban Planning

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