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.