Stamps Place social-housing tenants face an uncertain future

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      The ghost of Little Mountain looms large over residents of a social-housing complex in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

      Tenants at Stamps Place fear that they might be displaced, as happened to those in Little Mountain when the oldest public-housing project in the city was demolished following its sale to a developer.

      Stamps Place is being sold by the province, and according to resident Marilyn McKee, the spectre of Little Mountain haunts the neighbourhood.

      “The families are terrified,” McKee told the Georgia Straight by phone on October 17.

      B.C. Housing is looking for a nonprofit to purchase Stamps Place as part of the province’s new housing strategy. Under the plan laid out in February 2014 by deputy premier Rich Coleman, the government will be selling its social-housing assets to nonprofits. (Coleman, who is the minister responsible for housing, would not grant the Straight an interview.)

      On October 3, B.C. Housing announced that it will transfer ownership of about 115 of its approximately 350 properties to nonprofits by March 31, 2015. The rest will follow over the next three years.

      It was on the same day that McKee and other tenants of Stamps Place learned that their complex is up for sale. According to her, they were not consulted.

      “The residents weren’t told anything,” McKee said. “Basically, you got letters. I was handed a letter by one of the employees just marked ‘urgent’.”

      The selloff starts with Stamps Place and Nicholson Tower in Vancouver’s West End. Both are directly managed by B.C. Housing. In its October 3 media release, the housing agency assured that no tenants will be impacted by the sale of its assets.

      “The non-profit housing sector has been asking for this step for many years,” B.C. Housing stated, referring to organizations that operate 90 percent of social-housing projects in the province on lands they are leasing from the government.

      It added: “Having ownership of the land will improve a non-profit’s ability to support better long-term planning and self sufficiency. Owning the lands they operate on will also help non-profits secure the financing they need to be sustainable.”

      Three days later, B.C. Housing released a request for expression of interest (REOI) for Stamps Place. In it is a line that has McKee thinking about Little Mountain. It goes: “The transfer of this property and others will allow non-profit housing providers the opportunity to leverage these assets to ensure the long-term viability and capital renewal of their current rental housing stock.”

      McKee suggested that this means that Stamps Place may have to be demolished later on to make way for new development. “The buildings are very old,” McKee said. “In order for them [nonprofits] to be able to get ahead, eventually the buildings would have to be pulled out. So you’re going to displace people, regardless.”

      Stamps Place was built in 1968. The apartment and townhouse complex has 368 residences, plus eight common and staff living areas. The buildings had a retrofit in 2012.

      The four-hectare social-housing project is located at 400 Campbell Street and is valued at about $50.5 million.

      According to an REOI issued by the province, the transfer of Stamps Place to a nonprofit must be completed by February 1, 2015. The sale does not include the site occupied by the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre on East Hastings Street, which constitutes the northern edge of the larger Stamps Place area.

      But the REOI also states: “The Ray-Cam community center and the associated lands, including but not limited to the parking lot, basketball court and paved areas to the East of the Ray-Cam community center, will be subdivided at a later date by BC Housing in coordination with our various partners.”

      McKee is also the chair of the Ray-Cam community centre, and one of her colleagues on its board, Judy McGuire, likewise has concerns over the sale of Stamps Place.

      Although McGuire doesn’t live in the neighbourhood, she has been working with Downtown Eastside residents for many years.

      “Their first concern is that they just simply feel that they don’t have enough information, and it’s all happening too fast,” McGuire told the Straight by phone on October 17 about tenants at Stamps Place.

      She explained that with the province divesting itself of its assets, social-housing residents will be placed at a disadvantage. Because they will become tenants of a nongovernment entity, their ability to ask B.C. Housing to move to another public-housing location “presumably would disappear”, according to her.

      Like McKee, McGuire has a huge question regarding the implication of the province’s intention to have nonprofits leverage the assets that they are purchasing from B.C. Housing.

      “Presumably, one key way, of course, of leveraging property is to build on it,” McGuire said.

      Over at Little Mountain, the six-hectare property remains largely undeveloped except for a new five-storey residence with 53 units for seniors. Occupants started moving into the building last September.

      All but six of Little Mountain’s 224 social-housing units were demolished in 2009. Holborn Properties, a private developer, bought the property east of Queen Elizabeth Park for $300 million in cash and future nonmarket housing.

      Independent filmmaker David Vaisbord has been documenting the Little Mountain story. When reached for an update on October 20, Vaisbord related that he was planning to take a photo of Holborn’s field office on Main Street, which he claimed to be mostly unused.

      “Nothing much really has been happening,” Vaisbord told the Straight by phone.

      In the case of Stamps Place, nonprofits have until November 3 to respond to the province’s call for expressions of interest. The successful buyer must execute a contract of purchase by January 1, 2015.

      There’s not a lot of time for residents to have a say on what’s going to happen to Stamps Place. But they’re trying to make their voices heard.

      A community meeting will be held on Wednesday (October 22) from 5:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre (920 East Hastings). Another one will be held on Saturday (October 25) between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. at the same location, following a meeting with candidates running in the November 15 Vancouver municipal election.



      Deb miller

      Oct 23, 2014 at 12:50pm

      It's pretty obvious what is going on here. The physical plant is old and needs $$$ spent on it to maintain it to decent living standards. So our esteemed politicians are going to try and offload it to developers and collect a ton of money. Pretty disgusting when you consider the lack of public housing in the city. If any of you have tried or who knows someone who is trying to get a place will know just how bad the housing situation is.

      At this rate this area of Vancouver will ended up being rebranded as Bob Rennie's Strathcona. God help us.

      Elisabet Thor-Larsen

      Oct 23, 2014 at 5:14pm

      This move by the provincial Liberal government means the destruction of good quality social housing in BC. The NDP set up BC Housing to provide low cost, good quality housing for the low income people of BC. This housing has been managed and maintained by a unionized work force and has always been of a higher standard than that in the private sector. Nonprofit housing management organizations are notorious for their low wages and the heavy workload put upon each underpaid staff person. The typically rundown, pest ridden living conditions of the people in downtown SROs, most under management by nonprofit organizations, will be the standard for low income housing all over the province of BC. The nonprofit organizations will sell properties that become too much trouble to manage properly and this rich housing stock, that was designed, built and maintained by the taxpayers of BC will go for a song to the slum lords. Nice work there, Rich Coleman.

      A first step to full privatization of the land.

      Oct 24, 2014 at 2:46pm

      This is a first mini-step towards dismemberment of the land. Notice the language: the land will be used for non-profits to 'leverage these assets to ensure the long-term viability and capital renewal' i.e. as backing for loans from private institutions. Repayment of these loans will require the increase of rents. Another key term here is "self-sufficiency", of course no non-profit can be self-sufficient charging the same rates as the government has (which is a reasonable portion of the tenant(s)' income assistance cheque). Again, this signals that rents will have to increase. This is a mild form of privatization that is the first step to full privatization and market rents/mortgages. That may take time, perhaps up to another generation, but it is promised here.

      Anyone that cares about real social housing and Strathcona should oppose this.

      Without the two large social housing sites in Strathcona, it would be Kits East. The social housing is the only thing saving Strathcona from Kitsalinoization.

      Mary-Ann Charney

      Oct 25, 2014 at 9:19am

      The all candidates meeting is today, October 25 at Ray-Cam from
      11:30 to 2:00, not 1:00 to 2:00 pm as written above.