Metro Housing’s Heather Place rezoning to seek increased affordable housing while tenants remain on site

Metro Vancouver Housing Corp.’s board voted today to seek rezoning of its 84-unit Heather Place affordable housing project in Vancouver to replace the leaking homes with at least as many affordable units.

But the board went much further to meet concerns of existing tenants, including a pledge to do everything possible to find a strategy that allows existing tenants to stay on the site rather move away during construction. (I am a member of the MVHC board.) Increasing the number of affordable units above the current number is a top priority.

MVHC CEO Don Littleford also told the board that he is working on proposals to expand housing on the site to as many as 200 units in all, including some based on a form of co-op ownership to further extend affordability.

The leaking and moldy homes would cost millions to remediate, an option that board has now rejected in favour of new construction of an expanded project. City of Vancouver staff have indicated they support redevelopment, but the proposal must still be fully designed and taken to public hearing in a rezoning.

The site would remain the property of MVHC. There would be no condo development.

In response to tenant concerns, which were aired last year in a meeting at Heather Place that I attended with senior staff and Councillor Raymond Louie, MVHC has also agreed to:

  • ensure existing tenants have first access to the new homes;
  • ensure protection for subsidy tenants;
  • assist existing market tenants, whose rents are income tested, if new market rents would qualify them for subsidy; and
  • make the project non-smoking if possible.

Here’s the statement delivered to the board today by tenants’ reps:

Summary of the Presentation by the Independent Residents of Heather Place

Purpose

The residents of Heather Place understand that MVHC is about to decide whether to repair or redevelop Heather Place. This decision and the way it is implemented will have major repercussions on our families.

Who we are

The Independent Residents of Heather Place is a group of tenants that has researched the needs and recommendations of tenants by means of a tenant survey and several meetings.

The group has summarized the findings in letters to MVHC and a public presentation.

Our concerns

In recent years provincial and municipal governments have made decisions about affordable housing at Little Mountain and the Olympic Village ostensibly to improve the affordable housing situation in the city. In fact those decisions have caused a deterioration in the situation. The Olympic Village is simply not affordable. From 2008 to 2010,  700 people were vacated at Little Mountain. It is likely that none of these units will be replaced for at least three more years.

We are concerned that governments are selling off public land to developers in order to address a variety of budgetary issues rather than focusing on the needs of low-income families, including the elderly, people with disabilities and children. The child poverty rate in B.C. has been the highest in Canada for the past eight years and by having all the tenants of Heather Place move out all at once, this will only be exacerbating this situation given that affordable housing is hard to come by.

In addition, Heather Place has been the stalwart for many families without which dire poverty will be the only option if that can be considered a choice at all.  Asking people to move to the suburbs, and continue to work and go to school in Vancouver surely is an added blight to the city of Vancouver that strives to be the greenest city.

We believe that the best way to address the affordable housing crisis is to keep public lands in public hands and use it to build more housing, using a partnership comprising municipal, regional, provincial and federal governments. The City of Toronto uses this kind of partnership to build public housing. Even closer, Seattle Housing Authority continues to be forward looking in the way it replenishes, renovates and continues to work for the development of affordable housing. Metro Vancouver and the City of Vancouver should show themselves to be as progressive as Toronto and Seattle.

We believe that our representatives are elected to govern, not to engage in real estate speculation.

Actions that the residents are asking MVHC to take
•    to repair Heather Place rather than redeveloping it, in order to avoid disrupting the lives of the resident families
•    if a decision is made to redevelop the site, to avoid imposing financial hardship on the residents – we ask that you fully address our relocation costs (that include: active relocation assistance, portable subsidies if no other acceptable solution is available,  moving costs: movers, damage deposits, switching services fees)
•    if a decision is made to redevelop the site, to keep this public land in public hands and significantly expand the affordable housing MVHC is providing there
•    if a decision is made to redevelop the site, we hope that MVHC will remain committed to maintain a portion of Heathe Place genuinely smoke free in the same ratio as it is right now, or even designate whole project 100% smoke free, especially in the view that there is a tremendous unmet demand for smoke-free living in the multi-unit housing community.

The community of Heather Place

Last year at a meeting (date) with MVHC staff and Councillors Raymond Louie and Geoff Meggs, Julie Okot Bitek spoke movingly on behalf of the residents of Heather Place. She said:

“We at Heather Place are Vancouverites…As we live here, we continue to contribute our skills and passions in Vancouver.  Within Heather Place we have healthcare workers, construction workers, retirees, students, building managers, childcare workers, college instructors, administrators, secretarial and clerical workers, athletes, restaurant and retail workers, artists, social workers, businessmen and women, many of us being underemployed and sometimes unemployed in this economic climate.  We are also infirm, mentally and physically challenged and still taking care of our children and making the best balance we can out of our lives.  Some of us are dependent on our proximity to Vancouver General Hospital, having to go regularly because our lives depend on the access to the doctors and specialists.  Others of us are grateful to have Women and Children’s Hospital close-by, because our children’s lives depend on our proximity to the resources over there.

“Even as a microcosm of Vancouver, we also represent the world, having at Heather Place, people from all corners of the earth.  The difference being that at Heather Place we co-exist harmoniously and productively and have enjoyed being together.  We celebrate our different ethnicities in the occasions that we share our cooking, music and memories in each other’s company.  If anything, Heather Place is a community to be proud of,  an  example of how people can and should live.  It is devastating that such a neighbourhood be broken up and dispersed to make way for gentrification in the same way that we have seen neighbourhoods broken in Vancouver over the last two decades.”