Up until recently, Pam Burge was one of the few remaining tenants in the city’s Olympic Village social housing on False Creek. Since moving into the Olympic Village almost two years ago, problems with rent, utility bills and tenancy rights accumulated “without end.” Burge has been forced out of her housing in a post-Olympic drama containing many lessons but little in the way of answers and accountability.
Burge had been living in her one-bedroom apartment at 80 Walter Hardwick in the Olympic Village since April of 2011. The building is one of three city-owned buildings in the Olympic Village managed by COHO property management. The same company also manages The Athletes Village Housing Coop and 121 Walter Hardwick. All of these buildings are meant to provide a mix of market housing and non-market housing for low-income tenants. However, Burge states that a mix of housing simply does not exist in her former community: “There is no social housing at the Olympic Village.” Most of the units are more suited to higher income tenants, according to Burge, and she estimated that there were only about five tenants, including herself, who were “genuinely in core need of social housing.” However, she said that these tenants were in the process of being “forced out.”
London’s 2012 Olympic Games housing legacy is undeniable. It is a legacy of evictions, displacement, gentrification and social cleansing. The ever-worsening housing crisis has become a money-spinning ballast as collusion with property developers yields state-led displacement on a grand scale.
In the district of Newham, where Londoners are paying rent to live in sheds, displacement is rampant and the affordable housing shortage is about to worsen. At the Carpenters Estate, home to hundreds of families, residents are now being served notice by Newham Council to make way for University College London’s £1bn University campus expansion. After having their fees trebled in 2011, students will now continue accumulating debt while funding the real-estate financing schemes of UCL management. Student resistance, joined with the tenants of Carpenters Estate, has been persistent and militant, with public demonstrations, a recent exhibition at UCL’s Print Room Cafe, student tours of the estate, and an occupation at UCL’s Bloomsbury campus.
* Photo credit: David Vaisbord, The Little Mountain Project *
An updated Little Mountain Policy is coming to Vancouver City Council today, June 27 2012. The most notable issue is that the developer, Holborn, is now openly challenging the cornerstone of the project: that the proceeds of the land sale should fund the 224 ‘replacement’ social housing units onsite.
In 2007, the City and the Province agreed that ‘replacement’ social units — to house the 600 people dislocated by the Little Mountain demolition — would be funded from the sale of the land to a developer. The language in the agreement was unambiguous: “Whether the Site is rezoned or not, BC Housing will replace the existing 224 units of social housing on site … BC Housing will invest all of the net proceeds from the sale of the Site (after the existing social housing is replaced on site) into the development of social housing throughout the province. Half the net proceeds (after the existing social housing is replaced) will be invested in the City of Vancouver.” (For an analysis of the offsite housing, please see the article Myth of the 14 Sites by Nathan Crompton).
After signing this clear agreement, the Province then chose Holborn Properties Ltd. as the project’s developer. These two parties entered into a separate agreement involving sale of the land to Holborn. However, the terms of the agreement, including the dollar value of the land sale, have been kept from the public.
The Mainlander is featured in the civic politics segment every Tuesday morning between 7am-8am on Vancouver Co-op Radio 102.7
This Tuesday Dec 13 2011, The Mainlander’s Tristan Markle spoke about:
a) Holborn Group’s recent plans for the redevelopment of Little Mountain
b) Mayor Robertson’s appointment of multimillionaire developer Olga Ilich as co-chair of the city’s affordable housing task force
Click here to listen
The new plan for the redevelopment of Little Mountain neighbourhood in East Vancouver has been released to the public. The plan calls for wholesale gentrification of the Riley Park-Little Mountain neighborhood. The 15-acre site that previously held 224 units of social housing will be replaced with 2,000 units of market condominiums.
In exchange for a zero-percent increase in the amount of affordable housing on the site, the neighborhood will be transformed by luxury condos and retail, putting upward pressure on local property values. Like in other working-areas of Vancouver, this new high-end development will usher in rent increases, more renovictions and even more demolitions.
In Vancouver, there are on average two home demolitions per day. The Little Mountain plan ensures that the rate of demolitions will be particularly high in the Riley Park area. In addition to the demolition of Little Mountain social housing, the city has its sight set on demolishing all single-family homes at the north-east corner of the Little Mountain property.
Even though evictions and displacement are systemic throughout Vancouver, the city has not conducted a social impact study to understand the possible social effects of these demolitions and mega-projects. When asked at Thursday’s press conference whether the City plans to conduct such a study, Senior Planner Ben Johnson said “No,” claiming that there are no impacts because “homes are going for $1million in the neighborhood.” According to the city, the renters who make up large part of Little Mountain, Riley Park, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, Sunset, and Mount Pleasant are not part of the equation.
The new plan announced by the private developer, Holborn Group, consists of sixteen towers of luxury condominiums. There are nine towers planned at ten to fourteen stories, while the rest of the density is spread out between four to nine stories. It is assumed that Holborn bought the property from the provincial government for a price fixed to existing levels of zoning, at four stories, while committing to replace the 224 units of social housing.
This “one-for-one” deal is a coup for Holborn because on a mega-project of this size, the city would normally apply its mega-project housing policy requiring that 20% of all units be social housing. The planned 2,000 units would normally accompany at least 400 units of social housing, but in this case the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the City and the Province assures Holborn that only 224 units are necessary. Furthermore, low-income tenants have been forced into the precarious waiting room of history. The first phase of the project will now not be completed until 2017 at the absolute earliest, even though all replacement housing was promised to be completed by 2010 at the latest.
When Holborn bought Little Mountain, the land was zoned for four stories. Holborn claims to have paid an above-market rate because the Province promised that the land would be upzoned in the future to allow more condo units. Of course, rezoning is a City power, outside the Province’s jurisdiction. If the Province indeed made a guarantee to Holborn that the land would be rezoned, then the Province was on the one hand attempting to undermine the local community planning process (including the existing Riley Park Community Vision), and on the other hand seems to have misrepresented the Province’s powers to Holborn. However, there is no reason to feel sorry for Holborn. Holborn has more than enough lawyers to know exactly what they were getting into. The most likely scenario is that the Province and Holborn colluded to strong-arm the City and undercut local planning processes.
As protests in solidarity with #OccupyWallStreet spread across the continent, the “99%’ers” here are beginning to think about what #OccupyVancouver might look like. This is a good thing. Left-wing movements have always known that since capitalism itself is global, resistance to it ought to be global.
For New Yorkers, the most obvious and logical target is Wall Street. Staging a protest camp adjacent Wall Street in downtown New York city is no small feat. New York police are highly militaristic in quashing protests. One can only imagine the intensity of police desire, under pressure from New York power-brokers, to disperse the camp. The bravery of the activists is one of the things from which to draw inspiration.
What does it mean, then, to hold a protest in solidarity with that in New York? In part, it means to be inspired by their courage. That means to take spaces that challenge the real seats of power in our local situation. That may mean taking the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, but probably not: the reason protests are often held there is that the space is relatively easy to book. An #OccupyVancouver truly inspired by the original would take a space that is non-bookable, that directly challenges power-brokers.
Throughout Canada, there are many appropriate targets: Bay Street in Toronto, the headquarters of tar sands-related energy corporations in Calgary, and so on. In Vancouver, Coast Salish territories, there are many things to consider. Most importantly, the violence of colonization is felt acutely here, where European settlement began more recently than most other regions of the continent. (Indeed, the word “occupy” is often associated with European colonization of the land; it’s possible that the term, with its multiple meanings, may confuse or distract some from the spirit of #OccupyWallStreet: to stage a collective protest that challenges the 1% who run the capitalist economy).
Arguably the dominant function of Vancouver’s economy is that its housing market acts as a ‘sink’ for global capital accumulation. Investors, most of whom are locally-based, store their extracted wealth in Vancouver’s inflated real-estate market. The inflation of housing prices is managed by a realty oligopoly. This has created an affordability crisis for the working-class. While property-owners rely on the development monopoly to keep their home prices inflated, renters, who constitute the majority, are exploited. The city which most resembles Vancouver in these respects is Hong Kong. Vancouver and Hong Kong rank together as the most unaffordable cities in the world, with the median house price costing more than three times the median household income. As a result, residents are being driven out of their homes, onto the streets, out of the city. In Hong Kong, they have clearly identified the seat of power, and began their own #Occupy-like movement earlier this year. The story may serve as yet more inspiration for those thinking about our own solidarity movement.
Toppling property hegemony: “Down, down with the property tycoons!”
Just this past March 26 2011, Hong Kong activists staged a protest in one of [developer] Li Ka-Shing’s supermarkets “because property developers, not the government, were the ‘real enemies of society'” . As an act of creative civil disobedience, protesters filled shopping carts with items, then stood in line without buying anything, to “paralyse property hegemony for an hour.” One protester said: “We chose ParknShop because it is owned by Mr. Li Ka-shing and we all know Mr. Li is the real boss of Hong Kong…We are not expecting this to change the world, or beat down Mr. Li or the property-developer hegemony. But we want to make it a start of a new satyagraha campaign. We used to protest against the government. But it is no use. We target developers because they are the boss of the government and the real enemy of the society.” Another protester, a recent university graduate, said: “Even if we want to rent a flat, the rents are beyond our reach. It is because the influence of developers is too big.” 
Readers may know that Li Ka-Shing’s Concord Pacific bought Vancouver’s massive Expo Lands in 1988, developed Yaletown, and still has long-term plans for 10,000 to 20,000 more high-end condos on North False Creek. Concord Pacific, now run by Terry Hui, remains a major player in Vancouver’s developer oligopoly, with most new housing inventory planned beyond 2013 in Vancouver under its control. Concord’s ‘land bank’ comprises a large portion of Vancouver’s undeveloped lands, including much of False Creek, as well as 58 West Hastings – the site of 2010’s Olympic Tent Village. Concord exerts its power over Vancouver housing prices by developing its ‘land bank’ very slowly as high-end condos. These and similar undeveloped properties and empty condos controlled by Vancouver’s monopolist developers (such as the Aquilini Group, Wall Financial Corp., Concert Properties, Holborn Properties, and marketing ‘coordinator’ Bob Rennie) are reasonable targets for #Occupy. So too is the mostly empty Olympic Village.
This week the City released its three-year plan for addressing housing affordability in Vancouver. The plan has been received with wide appeal as an ambitious attempt to solve street homeless in Vancouver by 2015. In fact, the plan calls for drastic reductions in the city’s own housing goals, while introducing major reporting fabrications that give the appearance of a new direction for housing.
The three-year action plan announces 3,650 new units of non-market housing. Immediately, observers will recognize that almost half of these 3,650 new units are not new at all: they are part of the 14 sites, which were promised for completion by 2010 at the latest, not 2014. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for these sites was signed in 2007 and construction was supposed to start in 2008. The units were part of the 3,200 units promised by all three levels of government under the Inner City Inclusivity agreement (ICI) as a condition of hosting the Olympic Games. Zero of these units were built by time of the Olympics.
Once the 14 sites are subtracted from the 3-year total, the City is committed to building only 1,950 new housing units. However, a further significant portion of these 1,950 units are also falsely included. 319 of them are not planned for actual construction, since, as the report says, they “currently have no identified funding source.” In addition to this, 276 further units cannot be genuinely counted since they are drawn from the Little Mountain housing development. Little Mountain does not represent new units for the housing stock, since the 224 units of public housing at Little Mountain, built in 1954, were destroyed and all residents were promised to be re-housed by 2010. Since that illegal demolition, residents have been told that only half of them will be re-housed by 2014 at the earliest.