This morning, supporters gathered at the Little Mountain housing project to hear tenants speak out about their upcoming eviction hearing at the Residential Tenancy Branch. On July 27th, BC Housing issued a 2-month eviction notice to the tenants, requiring that they leave their homes by October 1st.
In 2009 eviction notices were given to all of the roughly 700 tenants living at Little Mountain. Four families refused to leave and are still living in the last remaining row house on the property at Main and 36th Avenue. The four families — including the blind senior couple Sammy and Joan — refused eviction, arguing that vacating the site was unnecessary and premature. Since then the site has sat empty for three years, with former tenants scattered in sub-standard housing throughout the Lower Mainland.
At today’s press conference neighbors and advocates from around the city stood with the four families in their call for a fair hearing at the Residential Tenancy Branch. The tenants demanded that the hearing be held in person rather than by phone. The main demand of the rally was that the tenants be allowed to “stay on site until a redevelopment plan is in place and the new housing is built.”
Long-time resident Ingrid Steenhuisen stated, “There’s nothing wrong with the building. We were told that this latest eviction was served because of the time frame of starting construction early next year. As we know from being active in the meetings, there’s a minimum ten to twelve months before the rezoning, and a minimum six months for the enactment.”
The City has indicated that construction will not start on the site for at least another two years. Ben Johnson from the City Planning Department has said in an email that, “For a project this complex, it would likely take about 12 months to get public hearings, assuming that the developer’s proposal is within the bounds of the City’s policy statements. following that is about 6 months of enactment. If processed concurrently, they could have shovels in the ground in 2014.”
COPE Board member and former Vancouver-Kensington MLA David Chudnvosky, who has been active in supporting the Little Mountain tenants, stated: “This is a multiple-phase development. The city says the first phase has to include the replacement social housing for these people, so there’s no reason the tenants shouldn’t stay in their homes until their new, promised social housing units are completed.”
In 2007 the displaced Little Mountain tenants were promised that they would be re-housed on the site by 2010. The replacement social housing — written into a Memorandum of Understanding between the Province and the developer Holborn — will not be completed until 2017 at the earliest.
Steenhuisen added that the remaining building, part of BC’s first public housing community, should be preserved due to its important heritage value. “There’s a lot of interest for saving that building for its historical significance.”
The struggle to save Little Mountain is one of the many struggles in Vancouver since the election of Vision Vancouver in 2008. Others include the fight for social housing at the Pantages Theatre site in the Downtown Eastside and the ongoing redevelopment struggle at Heather Place. Little Mountain is the oldest social housing development in the City of Vancouver, built in 1954 after the post-war housing crisis.
Articles at The Mainlander have argued that the loss of Little Mountain is both practical and ideological, representing the loss of the very idea of the importance of social housing, as distinct from other housing models. The Little Mountain housing project is one of the few remaining legacies from the struggle to create social housing in the late 1940s and early 1950s. If allowed to continue on its current path, the redevelopment of Little Mountain will be a repeat of the developer led public-private-partnership that resulted in the loss of over 800 units of social housing at the Olympic Village.
Last week, a petition was circulated to stop the eviction of the Little Mountain and a video documenting the struggle of several of the remaining tenants was released online. The video documents the harassment of tenants by BC Housing, and their persistent resistance in the face of the worsening housing crisis.
The legal hearing for the tenants of Little Mountain is set to be held tomorrow. After the strong testimony of tenants at today’s rally, all signs point to the fact that tenants will continue their fight for housing and justice.