‘The Killing of Alma Blackwell’: Jak King laments how upzoning affordable and mature housing stock can trigger demolition and displacement

Reprinted from original, with permission from Jak King. We have bolded a couple spots for emphasis and provided additional links and comments at bottom.

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The Killing of Alma Blackwell
(Post by Jak King, 14-Sept-2021)

In the early 1980s, a small group of women decided they needed a safe affordable place to live and to develop a community for women and their children. To achieve their ends, they established a Housing Society called “Entre Nous Femmes” which eventually built and developed the 46-unit Alma Blackwell housing project at 1656 Adanac Street, named after the grandmother of one of the group’s founders.

Alma Blackwell rapidly became the community the founders hoped for. Many women in need and their children lived in the housing project, often for decades. It has continued to thrive as a community and its success created the ability for the Housing Society to build more and more similar projects until today, ENF has eleven buildings in Vancouver.

Although not legally structured as a co-op, the ENF project operated within that milieu: the residents helped build and maintain the buildings, and controlled the Society. However, as the years passed, the governance became more and more removed from the residents, more distant, until today the residents are not only not allowed to be directors of the society, and are routinely refused access to the Society’s minutes, they even find it difficult to find out who is a director of their Society.

That change in governance has been matched by the recent unwillingness of the Society to maintain the property in a fit and livable manner. Moreover, a number of vacancies have occurred over the last couple of years which the Society has seen fit not to fill — even while the City suffers its worst ever housing crisis. This led to suspicions that something big was afoot — but the Society would not explain to the residents except to suggest that the Society did not have the funds needed to keep the building in good repair. When asked for details of the repair costs, the Society refused to respond to residents’ requests.

In April this year, Vancouver City Council approved a motion [link to Public Hearing here] that doubled the height of buildings allowed in certain zones, including the RM-3A zone in which Alma Blackwell sits. Almost immediately thereafter, plans to demolish Alma Blackwell and replace it with a much larger building were bruited and the residents were given, by a consultant hired by the Society, an unofficial official eviction notice.

Since that time, the Society has essentially refused to speak with the residents except to pressure several of them to accept relocation to other facilities. The Society has no formal Tenant Relocation Plan, is not offering any compensation, and in at least one case offered a resident a mere 24 hours to decide whether she and her child would move from the their decades-long home and move to another building, the details of which were not disclosed.

This story, and plenty of others, were movingly told by Alma Blackwell residents at last night’s Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) meeting. All the talk was about how great a community had been fostered at Alma Blackwell; people have lived there long enough to have children and grandchildren. They are a close-knit family-like community with good and close ties to the rest of the neighbourhood. Many of the residents are teachers at Britannia.

It seemed a unanimous opinion of the large gathering at the meeting that it is simply ridiculous to destroy a perfectly good low-income community just to build a larger facility that will have to start from scratch once again after a gap of who-knows-how-many years. It is pointless from a neighbourhood point of view, and it is highly destructive to the current residents, families who have spent years developing and nurturing that community.

Councillor Jean Swanson attended the meeting and will be asking a number of questions of staff. However, she was pessimistic about the chances of reversing the course of this development, given the current majority on Council and the previously-approved zoning adjustment. No matter. The wider Grandview community needs to speak up about this, and I hope we can speak so loudly that we cannot be ignored.

Original article here: https://jaksview3.wordpress.com/2021/09/14/the-killing-of-alma-blackwell/

Additional photo by CityHallWatch:

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Comment by CityHallWatch:

At the Public Hearing April 15 and 20, 2021 (see details in “Amendments to the Zoning and Development By-law to Increase Social Housing in the RM-4 and RM-3A Zoning Districts“), when Vancouver City Council approved doubling the allowed heights of buildings in certain zones, including the RM-3A zone in which Alma Blackwell sits, a number of speakers warned of situations like this one.

Related posts on CityHallWatch

After the April 2021 upzoning approved by City Council, mentioned in this article by Jak King, OneCity party’s Councillor Christine Boyle advanced a motion for upzoning to 12 storeys and to eliminate public hearings for that. The motion failed. See our story here: “Councillor Boyle’s motion sought up to 12-storeys in every neighbourhood, with no public hearings (Motion failed)” https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2021/05/17/boyle-motion-12-storeys-everywhere/

See also, video conversation Jak King and Scot Hein, on Jak’s book, “Battleground Grandview: An Activist’s Memoir of the Grandview Community Plan.”

2 thoughts on “‘The Killing of Alma Blackwell’: Jak King laments how upzoning affordable and mature housing stock can trigger demolition and displacement

  1. I don’t know the site, and I haven’t met any of the people that have called it home for all these decades. So I will limit my comments to neighborhood design and community participation. I shop at Uprising Breads and Bosa, charge my car at Britannia, have spoken at GWAC, and count many of the folks there—including the author—as colleagues and friends.

    First, this shows the inanity of planning by adding new floors. The same thing is happening at the Safeway site, and has been happening all over the city to its great undoing. Fine, we have a carpetbagger for a Mayor, and his idea of good politics is to dole out the density and the Skytrains. Because that’s what its all about for him back home in Nova Scotia (not!) or in Burnaby where he served as MP six years, long enough to qualify for a pension, then got out.

    But floor heights are not what it’s all about folks. The story at Alma Blackwell is what makes great communities. So, please, could the Board get in touch with me and could we sketch out together some plans that really do make sense?

    Much the same thing has been going on at the Kettle, where the planners at the City want to see a tower, and I can’t see past building 3.5 storey buildings with Human Scale urbanism, and a village square. GWAC Square. There is space for a piazza to be built next to Uprising Breads by closing the stem of Commercial that was left over when the street curve was introduced. That is street car space that can be turned over to people space.

    The square would be about 1,000 feet from Alma B. That’s what that community, and the rest of the neighborhood, really need. Meeting places where you can bump into neighbours without having to text. Just go… someone will be there.

    There has also been talk of putting towers at Britannia—Give me a break!

    Yes, I could see a revitalization of the grounds delivering parking underground and a civic space on top—in a place long overdue for a make-over. But no towers, thank you. We might be able to fit a block of affordable housing, provided it was kept off-market following the South False Creek model that TEAM introduced back in the 1970s. Row houses facing McLean Drive, named after Malcolm Alexander MacLean, first mayor of our City would do nicely. Maybe one 6-storey, small footprint apartment tower that was a density and property trade-off for retaining Alma B. Something like that could be in the works.

    I also see an opportunity, further west, to ring Strathcona Park with a whole neighborhood’s worth of houses, row houses and walk up apartments. 2,000 units, all of the same scale and character as Alma B, all protected from the speculative housing market by contracts on title. Some of which might be in the tradition of places like Quebec Manor in nearby Mount Pleasant.

    That would set up Venables Street, from Strathcona Park all the way to Uprising Breads and GWAC Village Square—let’s celebrate our neighborhood institutions—for a revitalization. The neighborhood improvement project would create about 2,000 homes along Venables by building wood frame over warehouses and workshops. We have lots of those kinds of buildings there. Garages, furniture stores, bakeries, you name it.

    These are the opportunities we should be consulting the neighbors about. And when ownership groups lose their way, we should be there to tap them on the shoulder and help them find it their way back. There is nothing wrong with adding a for-profit component to a non-profit site provided it is done well, and the original site is not destroyed in the process.

    Neighborhood building must be done with a sense of pride and care about the meaning and making of places we call home, and have called home, for years past and generations to come.

    We are better than this. And we can show it one place and one neighborhood at a time.

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