Activists mark 10 years since housing demolished at Vancouver's Little Mountain

Housing activists in Vancouver marked another anniversary in the ongoing saga to rebuild social housing at a prominent, mostly empty site in the city.

In 2009, more than 200 social housing units were dismantled and taken away from the Little Mountain public housing complex at Main Street and E37th Avenue.

Residents who were forced to move were told they would be allowed to come back once a new development was completed. But since then, very little of what was promised has been built at the site.

Norm Dooley with a citizens advisory group says the project is a failure.

"We think the deal that was signed ... with a private developer has been a disaster. It's a disaster because as you can see, there's nothing here," he said motioning to the six-hectare site, which has one completed building but looks mostly like a neglected greenspace.

Little Mountain became home to Vancouver's first large-scale modern social housing project in 1954 and was initially managed by the federal government and then passed onto the province in 2007 before it was sold that year to developer Holborn Holdings Ltd.

Its proposal was to build three 12-storey mostly residential buildings, which would include around 1,400 market value homes, but also 234 social housing units, childcare, and a new community plaza and public park, but company didn't make public what it would all look like  until 2015.

Slowly moving forward

According to a statement from the City, council approved rezoning for the site in 2016 and currently, five development permit applications have been submitted, which include 164 social housing units.

A building was completed in 2015 prior to the rezoning and has 53 units, but as for the others, they remain part of applications, which are at various stages of approval.

Temporary modular housing has been constructed at the site, which the city says will not delay the completion of permanent housing at Little Mountain.

Holburn did not initially respond to CBC News requests on Saturday about when it expects buildings to be completed, but in the past has maintained the project is proceeding.

Jon Hernandez/CBC

Vancouver-based architect Michael Geller was part of a team that bid on the property back in 2007 but lost out to Holborn.

He says the province should have done more to make deadlines part of the sale.

"The real problem I think is the nature of the deal that was struck between provincial government and the developer that didn't put in place the normal time restrictions requiring a pace of development that everybody hoped would happen," he said.

People at the rally on Saturday said they want the province to step in take the site back over from Holborn so that housing can be more permanently built.

"We think it's time to act and to call off the deal," said Dooley.  "This land is incredibly valuable, it could be used for many purposes, many forms of housing."

'Disgraceful'

Housing minister Selina Robinson did not say if expropriating the property is something the province could do.

Instead, she criticized the former provincial government, the B.C. Liberals in a statement.

"It's disgraceful that the old government threw away the potential this site represented," said in the statement. "Instead of a vacant lot, we could today be building hundreds of affordable homes."

She said her government is making "different choices" in responding to the housing crisis by investing in affordable housing.