Little Mountain project mired in politics

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

Mike Howell
Van. Courier

I know this will blow your mind, but what the heck: There is politics involved in the redevelopment of the Little Mountain public housing site.

“No,” you say.

“Well yeah,” I say.

“What’s your proof?” you ask.

Well, just give me a few paragraphs to give you some background on the Little Mountain saga before I present my case…

Many of you are probably aware that developer Holborn Group bought the big piece of property near Queen Elizabeth Park almost eight years ago with plans to redevelop the site.

You’re also probably aware more than 200 new homes will be built for social housing and be mixed in with a whole lot more private condos.

Last time I checked, I believe 50 or so of the new social housing units were built. So what the heck is happening with the rest of the project? What’s the delay? Will it ever be built?

Yes, many questions.

It’s a topic that was on Housing Minister Rich Coleman’s mind when I interviewed him Monday. I was asking him about the B.C. government’s commitment to build more housing for homeless people. I never brought up Little Mountain, but he did and sent this message to Vancouver city hall.

“I’d like to see them get the zoning of Little Mountain done,” he said. “We’ve already spent $300 million on Little Mountain in the city of Vancouver and I wouldn’t mind seeing that [project] start construction before the end of the year. There’s another 232 units there, or something like that, that would be available for people for affordable social housing. So those sort of things need to get done, too.”

Interesting, right.

The next day I was at city hall where city council was talking about homelessness and we heard Mayor Gregor Robertson — again — say the province and the feds have to do more to build more social housing.

But we also heard NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova ask what was going on with the Little Mountain project. She got into a bit of an exchange with city manager Penny Ballem.

De Genova: “It’s ironic that we’re standing here trying to find ways to house people but the Little Mountain site hasn’t been mentioned, it hasn’t come up. And I just drove by and it’s still sitting in its state eight years later. So I’m just wondering if you can give me an update on that?”

Ballem: “The Little Mountain site, as you know, took a long time to have the deal done with the provincial government. It has been a long time in the application for a rezoning, due to the fact there have been a lot of challenges with the developer understanding his obligations under the deal with the province. So it is now in process toward a rezoning process that will be coming to council, hopefully, by the early fall. But it has been a very, very difficult process and we totally share your frustration with that.”

DeGenova: “I understand that there’s at least [another] 181 units of non-market, or possibly social housing, that are planned on the Little Mountain site. And considering the [homeless] report, and what we’re hearing and the dire need, is there any way to move that forward faster?”

Ballem: “Well, that would be a good question to be put to minister Coleman because I think that the whole issue around Little Mountain has been the ability of the province and the developer to understand the construct, which is the developer must pay for replacement of all the social housing that was on that site.”

DeGenova: “Is it or is not correct that to build those units, we are waiting on the rezoning at the city level?”

Ballem: “The issue really is that the developer, in order to get a rezoning report coming forward to council, has to put forward their construct of how they’re going to replace that housing. That has been the issue. Because I’ve been part of that discussion for six years now and it’s extraordinarily frustrating.”

Round and round we go.

Meanwhile, this year’s homeless count statistics released Tuesday showed 1,746 people were without permanent housing in Vancouver, with 488 living on the street.

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