Vancouver social housing faces tenant opposition to planned redevelopment under new no-public-hearing rule

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      On April 20 this year, the City of Vancouver adopted a new rule to make it easier to build new and bigger social housing projects.

      Under the new guidelines, social housing of up to six storeys will no longer go through a rezoning process.

      This means no more public hearings, which is a rezoning requirement that allows citizens to express their views before council.

      With the new rule, proponents do not have to secure council approval anymore, and will only deal with city staff in a development permit application.

      Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society owns and operates social housing in Vancouver, North Vancouver, and Surrey.

      With the planned redevelopment of its first public housing project, the Alma Blackwell, ENFHS is one of the first to undertake new projects under the new city rule.

      Alma Blackwell is an East Vancouver three-storey townhouse-style social housing development with 46 units at 1656 Adanac Street.

      ENFHS executive director Lisa Clement said that the nonprofit wants to build a new six-storey building, and increase the number of housing units to around 80 to 100.

      “We’re looking at effectively doubling affordable housing units we provide in the community of Grandview-Woodland,” Clement told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Clement also said that ENFHS has secured a funding commitment from the provincial government for the planned redevelopment.

      However, the project is facing opposition from a group of tenants who have started a petition addressed to B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan.

      The petition calls on Horgan to stop the redevelopment and prevent the “renoviction of the tenants”.

      An information sheet distributed to tenants states that the project has “received confirmation of approval for funding” under B.C. Housing’s Community Housing Fund (CHF) program.

      “Future partnerships with funders such as Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), the City of Vancouver and others are being considered to help advance the project,” the material notes.

      Online, ENFHS states that Alma Blackwell currently provides low-end-of-market rents, which means rates are 10 percent lower than comparable housing units in the neighbourhood.

      The information sheet tells tenants that the plan is to “keep rents as low as possible” in the new development.

      The intended housing mix will allocate 50 percent for rent-geared-to-income units, with monthly rates ranging from about $900 to $1,500.

      Also, 20 percent of the units will have “deep subsidy”, and rents will range from $375 to $700.

      The remaining 30 percent will be low-end-of-market units for households with moderate incomes between $75,730 and $117,080, which means rents ranging from $1,500 to $2,500 a month.

      The information sheet pledges tenant relocation supports as well as the right of first refusal for current tenants who wish to return when the redevelopment is complete.

      The petition initiated by a group of tenants states that ENFHS is “destroying a building that is iconic in East Vancouver…without considering repair of the building”.

      The petition claims that the nonprofit is “sending people who need affordable housing into the street to build affordable housing for other people”.

      “While everyone agrees with the need for more affordable housing, it cannot come at the cost of evicting those very people that need the housing,” the petition asserts.

      Moreover, it states that residents have “repeatedly asked ENFHS for the cost analysis” of redevelopment compared to repair, but their requests have been “left unanswered and/or ignored”.

      In the phone interview, Clement told the Straight that ENFHS understands that “folks are upset”.

      “We’re commited to working with our tenants a hundred percent; this is a really strong, amazing community and we will be finding everyone a home,” Clement said.

      Clement said that ENFHS expects to submit a development permit application toward before the end of 2021.

      “We recognize that one of the most challenging pieces here is that folks are losing their community, but we want to recreate that for them in the new building,” Clement said.

      If approved for redevelopment, the new Alma Blackwell is expected to open sometime in 2024.