(Updated) The news that low-income tenants at Little Mountain will not be evicted is a huge relief. We hope the news is all true. But, the public must wait to learn, at what cost was the deal made? Gregor Robertson’s Mayor’s Office (rather than the City’s official media office — though we’ve found a release by the Province of BC.) today, October 25, 2012, issued a press release on his blog entitled, “Social housing to move forward at Little Mountain; tenants can remain on site.” It states that a deal has been reached to prevent the eviction of the tenants occupying the last remaining building at Little Mountain Housing (see our earlier articles here and here). Quoting from the press release:
“Mayor Gregor Robertson says it is good news that social housing at Little Mountain will go ahead, and that a deal has been reached to let the remaining tenants stay on site.
The B.C. government, the City of Vancouver and Holborn Properties have signed an agreement that will allow up to 50 social housing units to be built right away at Little Mountain, prior to the completion of the rezoning process.”
This is great news that the last remaining tenants have have averted eviction, and celebration is in order for that. But the public and media need to know more of the details before they can rest assured that the deal is a good one for the tenants and the people of Vancouver. The statements issued by the Mayor’s Office bring up several key questions. How can units be built ‘right away’ if no rezoning has taken place? The release states that “The City will subdivide the lot and expedite permits to help fast-track the social housing.” This clue suggests two scenarios, as the deal involves plans to divide the property. Either a rezoning will be required to isolate a parcel destined for 50 housing units, or they would have to be built under current zoning (RM-3A Multiple Dwelling at floor space ratio of 1.0). So here’s the catch — if a rezoning is the intent of the agreement, a Public Hearing is required. Can the Mayor’s Office make a public commitment to the outcome of a Public Hearing (even for a very worth cause)? What precedents are being set here? Have all our elected officials at City Hall been briefed of the details and did the express support for the deal before the Mayor made the announcement? Has the Mayor followed due process? Of course building under current zoning would not require a public hearing or Council approval, but current zoning limits development there to a density of 1.0 FSR. We’ve reproduced the zoning map below for reference:
Open questions: What is the story behind the scenes? Did BC Housing and Holborn artificially create a crisis using the threat of eviction, which gave them and the City of Vancouver the chance to appear like heroes for averting the crisis now? The entire threat of eviction came out of the blue as the tenants were supposed to be allowed to stay much longer. Were they used as pawns in the entire process? Was something going on so that Holborn and the Province could speed things up and/or get a sweeter backroom deal from the City? What are the other parts of the deal? What did the Mayor give up and what does Holborn get out of the deal — short term and long term?
Of course, the most transparent step the Mayor’s Office could take would be to release the full terms of the deal with Holborn. This should clear up many unanswered questions.
Finally, we encourage the public to observe how the mainstream media and the prominent civic reporters and commentators cover the news about Little Mountain. Are they getting caught up in the euphoria and simply going with the press release? Or are they looking deeper and asking the questions to get the information the public really needs to know about this high-profile case?
The ball has been set in motion by today’s press releases. After the dust settles a bit, the public will have had the chance to see City Hall and all the players in action, and perhaps we’ll all learn something about our city.
Some media coverage: