Ingrid Steenhuisen summed up her reaction to the news the four remaining households at Little Mountain won’t have to move from the site as “relief.”
“A lot of relief,” said the longtime social housing tenant. “It has been a really challenging process, the whole five years overall, the last three years and especially these last few months.”
Steenhuisen and her neighbours were poised to attend an eviction hearing at the Residential Tenancy Branch in Burnaby Monday morning. But they learned Thursday afternoon the B.C. government, the City of Vancouver and developer Holborn Properties have signed an agreement that will allow up to 50 social housing units to be built prior to the completion of the rezoning.
B.C. Housing will pay for their development, said Vision Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang. Holborn Properties will fund the development of social housing from market housing sales on the site, but it can’t sell units until the property has been rezoned for a high-density residential and commercial development.
It’s hoped construction on up to 50 social housing units will start in the first part of 2013. The city will subdivide the lot and expedite permits to hasten construction.
B.C. Housing previously said the last remaining townhouses needed to be demolished to clear the way for environmental remediation and new construction.
Jang said a corner of the site far from where the first phase of construction is expected has been selected for the expedited social housing.
The 234 units to be built will replace the original 224 units and will be constructed specifically for families and seniors, with the 10 additional units for aboriginal people.
Residents of the more than 50-year-old social housing community learned in 2007 that the site was going to be redeveloped. The federal government transferred ownership of the 15.3-acre property near Queen Elizabeth Park to the province in 2007. Most of the residents of Little Mountain were moved into in-demand social housing spaces by September 2009 and all but one building was demolished.
Steenhuisen and other neighbours didn’t want to move from their homes and community near Main Street and south of 33rd Avenue. Steenhuisen’s 79-year-old mother has lived at Little Mountain since 1956 and in the same unit since 1964. She has been in the hospital and then residential care since October 2009.
“This means she does have continued peace of mind and that her home is still here for her to come back to because she is getting better,” Steenhuisen said.
She noted politicians, planners, community activists and documentary filmmaker David Vaisbord have helped remaining residents of Little Mountain with their plight.
“Throughout this whole process a lot of people [were] saying why bother, you’re not going to get what you want anyway, they’re just going to get what they want,” Steenhuisen added. “…There has to be someone willing to hold that torch of possibility and despite my different challenges, I was willing to hold that torch, not just for those of us who are here, but for those who left who are having difficulties.”
Jang believes Holborn hopes to proceed with rezoning in the spring. Policy for the development allows four to eight-storey buildings along Main Street, two 12-storey structures and buildings of four to 10 storeys elsewhere.
The provincial government is investing the net proceeds of the sale of the site into social housing in the province, including more than $300 million for more than 1,500 new housing units at 14 city-owned sites in Vancouver. To date, six of these developments have been completed, and eight other developments are under construction or in the planning stages.