Little Mountain's Gentrification: An Interview With Vancouver City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth

Vacant Homes at Little Mountain, June 2009

I remember seeing Ellen Woodsworth at Main and 33rd supporting residents as they protested against the demolition of their homes. As time progressed, developers became more aggressive with their "relocation" tactics, desolation expanded, and demolition began.

In February, I interviewed Red1of the Rascalz to shine light on this issue. In July, I wrote a dense essay-like article about the injustices involved. Despite public out-cry, demolition proceeded.

I sat down with Ellen Woodsworth on December 11th, to discuss the loss of Little Mountain.

VO: Little Mountain was one of the first social housing projects in Vancouver. BC Housing sold this public land to the Holburn Group, which is a private developer. Do you think that this process can be defined as progress, gentrification, or something entirely different?

Woodsworth: Little Mountain was 15 acres of public land with 224 units of low-income family housing. It was designed with park space in the middle, so that parents could watch their kids play. It was a wonderful community that birthed a lot of very progressive social initiatives. It provided stability to low income families and single moms.

The head of our housing department told us that for 10,000$ a unit, we could have re-furbished all those homes and had them open in a matter of weeks.This would have housed over 700 people.

The federal government had the money available for the province to do this. I thought that it was a complete abdication of the province's responsibility to tear down perfectly good housing, during Vancouver's biggest housing crisis since the depression.

BC Housing has a waiting list of about 12,000 people. It doesn’t make sense to sell Little Mountain to a private developer who has only made some commitment to replace social housing one for one.

We won’t see anything on this site for several years…if at all. This developer has no experience developing social housing. What we could have done is refurbish these homes or built around it. I think that it’s a tragic loss of public land and public housing during a massive housing crisis.

VO: Gregor Robertson spoke about Little Mountain when he was running for office. He argued that it was illogical to shut it down. When he became elected, he backed down from his position on this issue. Why did that happen?

Woodsworth: Housing is developed with three levels of government working together. Traditionally, the city provides the land, the federal government provides the capital cost, and the province provides the operational costs. In 1993, the federal government ended the national housing program. For a couple years, BC and Quebec continued to build housing. And then they withdrew from the housing market. All of these variables have contributed to the housing crisis. We’re the only G8 country that doesn’t have a housing strategy.

What happened with Little Mountain, is that the province put the pressure on the city and said that they would not agree to develop 14 sites of proposed social housing, if they couldn’t sell off Little Mountain.

They basically strong-armed Gregor Robertson and forced him to sign the demolition permit. They claimed that they needed the revenue from selling Little Mountain to build the 14 sites. However, the province already had a housing fund of 250 million that they could have used to develop the 14 sites AND develop Little Mountain.

VO: How does the province justify this?

Woodsworth: The province has always shown that they are in support of selling off public assets and making millions of dollars for private developers. The public bears all the costs and the private companies get the profits.

VO: How can citizens support the process of creating more social housing?

Woodsworth: People should get involved with political parties who are fighting for housing. People should make housing a priority in the next federal election. Tell all the different political parties that at least 1% of the federal budget needs to go towards housing. The national homelessness plan needs to be long-term. There are groups, such as: the Renters at Risk program in the west end, the Carnegie Community Action Project in the Downtown East Side, and The Citywide Housing Coalition. Getting involved with these groups helps a lot.

VO: Do you have hope for the future of Vancouver’s social housing?

Woodsworth: I do. Because, I think that the public gets it. COPE and VISION won the election because we campaigned hard on those issues. We committed ourselves to making progress on the issues of homelessness and housing.

 

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