Little Mountain looms big in the minds of tenants at Heather Place.
The publicly owned rental property near Vancouver General Hospital is being eyed for redevelopment. And residents are afraid of a repeat of the debacle that took place at Little Mountain, once the oldest and perhaps most successful social-housing project in the city.
“Everything is in the realm of ‘if’,” Heather Place renter Tamara Szymanska told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “ ‘If this happens, that will happen’…There’s a lot of uncertainty.”
Amid a provincewide housing crisis, starting in November 2009, demolition crews tore down most of the 224 homes at Little Mountain to make way for a mix of condos and subsidized housing. More than three years later, not a single new home has been built on the site.
According to Szymanska, at least one family that used to live at Little Mountain now resides at Heather Place.
For years, Little Mountain residents called for a phased development so their community of long-time residents would not be needlessly destroyed. But this was ignored by the provincial government, then-owner of the six-hectare parcel of land east of Queen Elizabeth Park. Holborn Properties is the current owner.
A gradual development is among the requests being asked by tenants at Heather Place, an almost-one-hectare parcel of prime real estate owned by the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation. However, there isn’t much to assure them they won’t be displaced.
“We don’t know anything—if it’s going to be phased in, what kind of help they’re going to give to tenants,” Szymanska said.
An October 3, 2012, letter by Don Littleford and Ulryke Weissgerber, MVHC manager and supervisor of tenant programs and services, respectively, informed residents that a staged development “might be possible”. However, the two regional housing executives also explained that a decision can’t be made “until the design of the new complex is better defined”.
MVHC is preparing a rezoning application to be filed before the City of Vancouver. It plans to replace the 86 townhouses at Heather Place with more than 200 homes.
“Until this [rezoning] is done, and the MVHC knows what it can build on the site, a final feasibility study can’t be completed,” Littleford and Weissgerber told residents. “So a final project decision is probably [going to be made] at least late in 2013 or into 2014.”
There are also “no promises or decisions about temporary relocation and moving cost assistance for either subsidized or market tenants”, the two regional housing agency officials wrote.
Twenty-six homes at Heather Place are occupied by tenants who pay subsidized rents. Their rents will not change after the property is redeveloped, according to Littleford and Weissgerber.
It’s a different story for market tenants, whose rents will increase. However, Metro Vancouver is promising to assist them if their rents exceed 30 percent of their gross household income.
According to Littleford and Weissgerber, a studio unit at a future Heather Place may rent for $800 a month. One-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom homes could go for $1,250, $1,700, and $2,100, respectively. The letter summarized the points taken up at a September consultation with residents. No new meeting between MVHC and Heather Place tenants has been set so far, Szymanska said.
Last summer, Littleford told the Straight in a phone interview that the redevelopment of Heather Place may cost about $30 million. According to the MVHC manager, the housing body has about $10 million in cash in its development reserve fund. “So the balance of the money has to come from either a mortgage or through selling some of the density on that,” Littleford said at the time. “It’s undecided.”
An FAQ on a Metro Vancouver webpage about the project addresses whether or not a part of the property will be sold to a developer for the construction of condos. The answer reads, in part: “At the present time, no.”
In the meantime, the tenants have to wait. “This is our home,” Szymanska said. “For most of us, it’s hard to rent somewhere else.”