Deborah Fong’s fondest memories as a young girl are from Little Mountain Housing. She remembers the Easter egg hunts. Her most prized recollection was winning the writing contest that residents organized at Vancouver’s oldest social-housing project.
On Sunday (December 7), Fong returned to the site where her family had lived since she was a one-year-old. A friend painted a portrait of her family from an old photo, and the piece was posted at building number 10 on 33rd Avenue.
There she was in the portrait as a young girl, with her brother Jeff, and parents Richard and Rose Fong. Now a graphic designer, she stayed at Little Mountain until she moved out when she was 18. Her parents lived there for 45 years until her father died five years ago, which was two years after her mother passed away.
“I wanted to give a personal look to the project,” Fong told the Georgia Straight. “Right now it’s so depressing and desolate with the boards, so I wanted people walking by to know that families lived here and grew up here and had fun here.”
Weeks ago, workers boarded up most of the 224 social-housing units in the area in preparation for the eventual demolition of the buildings. Built in the 1950s, Little Mountain Housing will exist no more after plans for its redevelopment are pushed through.
Except for 19 units, the rest of Little Mountain Housing’s houses are empty.
“I think it’s really sad and unnecessary,” Fong said about the planned redevelopment. “They should be saving it for social housing, and not tearing it down. I think it would be a great opportunity to put community gardens here, and use the recreational areas for kids.”
The provincial government, which owns the site, had chosen the Holborn Group to redevelop the site into expensive residences. The 224 social-housing units will be replaced on a one-to-one basis, which means the same number will exist by the time the project is completed.
Redevelopment is said to start after the 2010 Olympics but the developer wants the entire six hectares of prime land vacated.
According to NDP Vancouver-Kensington MLA David Chudnovsky, ownership will remain with the province until there are still residents occupying some of the units. Until the transfer happens, Chudnovsky hopes that a way can be found to use most of the empty housing units to shelter Vancouverites in need of decent homes.
Fong and Chudnovsky were among dozens who flocked to Little Mountain Housing on December 7 for an art-in protest. Wood planks boarding the empty units were painted with various images that carried one simple message: housing for all. Other paintings done on paper were also pinned to the buildings.
Also present was Coun. Ellen Woodsworth of the Coalition of Progressive Electors, one of the principal advocates to use the site for housing until actual development gets underway.
“Council needs to say that there may or may not be a development between the provincial government and Holborn,” Woodsworth told the Straight. She was referring to two stalled Holborn development projects – the downtown Ritz-Carlton hotel-condo, and The Hills condo at Knight Street and Kingsway.
Woodsworth noted that she has heard about B.C. Liberal Housing Minister Rich Coleman’s position that unless the redevelopment deal is sealed, there won’t be any money from the province to finance social-housing projects in 12 city-owned properties identified for this purpose.
However, the COPE councilor argued that an approach of pitting one housing concern against the other is a mistake.
“I think we should look at the project--whether or not the development goes through with Holborn--as a really excellent way to provide housing, and we need to develop housing on those other 12 sites,” she said.
“Given this site is going to be empty for at least two years, and may be much longer, why wouldn’t the developer and the province work with the city to house people in the interim?” Woodsworth also said. “I think the city needs to call on the developer and the province to have a discussion how we can house people immediately on this site, and then have a discussion about where do we go in the long term to maximize the amount of low-income and affordable housing on this site.”
Housing activist Rider Cooey was also at the art-in, and he told the Straight that the city has options that it can consider to preserve Little Mountain Housing for the meantime.
These include renovating the buildings to make the facilities livable again for families.
“The developer doesn’t own it yet,” Cooey said. “That means that Little Mountain is still in play politically, and we intend to ensure that it remains in play.”