Broken housing promises at Heather Place: Four out of ten affordable housing units will be lost in redevelopment

IMG_0754photo by Erica Holt

The last decade has been an era of broken housing promises in Vancouver. Whether it is the undelivered housing legacy of Vancouver 2010, the sell-off of the Olympic Village, the ultimate watering down of the Woodward’s promises, or the Mayor’s undelivered promise to end homelessness by 2014, few if any housing promises have gone unbroken.

If Vancouver city councillors get their way next week, an affordable family housing complex in central Vancouver – Heather Place – will be demolished and replaced with mostly expensive market housing. That will count as another serious broken housing promise, because to date Vancouver city councillors have committed to replacing the affordable housing at Heather Place.

The official Heather Place policy report was released to the public last month, revealing that – despite promises – the 86 units of affordable housing at Heather Place will not be replaced on a one-for-one basis.

Heather Place debate

In 2012, it was reported by The Mainlander that housing activists had criticisms of the redevelopment scheme. They claimed that a one-for-one replacement did not seem likely unless the terms of the redevelopment were significantly improved. City councillor Geoff Meggs – the politician responsible for the redevelopment – accused Heather Place critics of “libel,” promising on his blog that “Heather Place’s affordable housing units will be replaced on a one-for-one basis.”

A year later, in 2013, the plans remained unclear, prompting critics to publish another article in the Georgia Straight. The article reiterated that, “the possibility of a one-for-one replacement of affordable units [still appears] out of the question, according to plans.” That same year Meggs doubled down on his empty promise of a one-for-one replacement, claiming again that the “Heather Place redevelopment will replace [the] 86 social housing units.”

Current plan

Finally last month the city’s official policy report for Heather Place was released to the public. The newest version of the plan states clearly that there will not be a one-for-one replacement of affordable housing at Heather Place.

Instead, the current 86 units of affordable housing will be broken down into three categories:

  • 26 units of affordable social housing replaced one-for-one at same rents;

  • 26 units at market rents: $1,800 for two-bedroom units, which currently rent for $1,100 Heather Place. These units will be unaffordable, but rent vouchers will be made available for tenants if government finances allow. To learn more about the loopholes in this part of the scheme, read an article by Heather Place tenant Karen Gilchrist, “Four Reasons Why the Redevelopment Model at Heather Place Isn’t Good for Affordability.”

  • The remaining third of the 86 units will rent at full market rates, which means that these units will not be counted as one-for-one replacement housing.

In the end, four out of ten (34/86) existing affordable units at Heather Place will be replaced with market rate units. This means a minimum 40% decrease in affordable units for working class and low-income families in Vancouver.

War of attrition

Over the past year the landlord (Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation) has dragged tenants through a lengthy, nerve-testing process of endless meetings and paperwork, all while threatening to sell the property to a private developer. As a result, more than 30 modest income households have retreated from Heather Place.

Their housing will not be replaced in the redevelopment.

Rather than a one-for-one affordable replacement, as so often promised by Vision Vancouver and the politicians of Metro Vancouver, there will instead be a significant increase in market housing on the site and a significant decrease in affordable housing, all in the midst of a worsening housing crisis.