There has been considerable media coverage about last week’s announcement that several residents no longer will be evicted from the Little Mountain homes. Much of the coverage missed important points. To fill in the blanks, the following commentary on the history of the Little Mountain Housing evictions was provided by Vancouver urbanist and commentator Ned Jacobs, who has followed the story since the beginning:
On Thursday afternoon (Oct 25), I caught part of an interview with Vancouver City Councillor Kerry Jang on CBC Radio “On the Coast,”, about the surprise announcement regarding the Little Mountain redevelopment. Jang implied that all the tenants except these last four wanted to be relocated and that they left “willingly.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The tenants were all told they had no choice but to accept relocation, and those that signed relocation agreements first would have the best choice of available units on other BC Housing sites. As I recall, a detailed house-to-house survey undertaken by CALM in 2008 revealed that more than 75% of the tenants would have preferred to remain on the site during phased redevelopment, even if this meant moving to another unit or building.
BCH officials tried to convince the tenants and their supporters that allowing tenants to remain on site while it was developed in phases was impossible because it would supposedly be too hazardous. When we wouldn’t swallow that lie, and pointed out that it would be no less hazardous for neighbours in private homes adjacent to the site, they falsely asserted that the entire 15-acres would have to be excavated to create parking garages before any construction of homes could begin. Tenants reported numerous instances of coercion and manipulation by BCH employees to pressure them into agreeing to go to units or places—sometimes outside Vancouver—that were not suited to their needs. Many of the Little Mountain tenants had immigrated to Canada from dictatorships and were especially vulnerable to intimidation.
When BCH started to disband the Little Mountain community they assured the tenants that they would be able to return to new homes in 2010. There never was any possibility of meeting that timeline, but BCH even had this disingenuous claim on their website. By spinning it that the other tenants all left willingly and that the four remaining tenants stayed because there was difficulty in relocating them (when the real reason was that they refused to accept relocation, and B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman was not prepared to have them forcibly removed because of the negative publicity it would have generated), Jang is trying to enable BCH, Coleman, and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson (who agreed to allow the other 220 homes to be demolished in 2009) to save face. I wouldn’t be surprised if spinning it this way was part of the understanding that was reached between the City and the Province.
I think that another reason BCH agreed to let the remaining tenants stay, and to fast-track some of the replacement units, may have been the public revelation—also on Thursday—that an internal BCH investigation had uncovered embezzlement of taxpayers’ money by BCH employees, who used special credit cards to pad expenses. The Little Mountain announcement was perfectly timed to counter this negative publicity with a “good news” story.
A detailed enquiry into all aspects of the Little Mountain travesty—including full disclosure of the deal with Holborn—is needed in order to get to the bottom of what has happened, and hopefully ensure that it doesn’t happen again.