Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why, Indeed?

I snapped this photo on my way past the Little Mountain housing development at 33rd and Ontario the other day. I gather from the wire fencing now surrounding the long boarded-up apartment and townhouse complexes that they are finally going to start the tear-down in advance of the scheduled redevelopment.

Little Mountain is the oldest public housing development in Vancouver, designed in the early 1950s in response to the postwar baby boom, and specifically aimed at low-income families. In late 2006 Little Mountain was targeted by the provincial government as the first public housing site in the province to be redeveloped according to its "Housing Matters" blueprint, which seeks to partner private developers with non-profit organizations and provincial agencies in order to create mixed-use and mixed-income communities, where social housing is "more fully integrated" alongside market real estate.

A "Residents First" policy was adopted when the Little Mountain redevelopment got the go ahead, and Holborn Properties won the private sector bid. Among other things, that policy stated that all residents would be relocated to other BC Housing public and non-profit units, or relocated in the private market with the help of the Rental Assistance Program or the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters program. It further stated that all current residents would have the option to return to Little Mountain's subsidized housing when the new units were complete.

All well and good, but many in the city wondered why, after the last of the residents were relocated early last year, and with an attendant global economic collapse that no doubt put a damper on Holborn's development zeal, the site then sat vacant for so long, with what appeared to be 500 units of perfectly decent social housing available yet unused during one of the coldest winters on record in Vancouver.

I know projects like this take lots of planning and coordination and time, but graffiti such as that captured in this photo is a telling reminder that in the lead-up to the Olympics, the vaunted rhetoric surrounding solutions to homelessness in this city are more often than not at odds with reality.


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