British Columbia

12 years after sale of public Little Mountain lands, developer still owes bulk of purchase price

Former NDP housing minister Selina Robinson says $240 million is still owed to the province by Malaysian developer Holborn on the 2008 purchase price of over $300 million.

Holborn agreed to pay over $300M for the land in 2008 but still owes $240M, says former NDP housing minister

The stretch of vacant land in Vancouver's Little Mountain neighbourhood — now empty for more than a decade — has been the subject of criticism from social housing advocates for years. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

A dozen years after the Little Mountain lands were sold for over $300 million to Malaysian developer Holborn Holdings Ltd., the majority of the purchase price remains unpaid, according to Selina Robinson, former NDP housing minister and candidate for Coquitlam-Maillardville. 

"We're still owed, I believe, well over $240 million," said Robinson. "We haven't been able to see the details of the deal that the former B.C. Liberal government made because it's a third party deal." 

Robinson said a $40-million deposit was paid by Holborn in 2013, five years after the previous government announced the sale in 2008.

Because of third party concerns, almost all the details of the purchase and payment schedule remain unknown to the public. Meanwhile, the prime six-hectare parcel of Vancouver real estate has sat mostly empty amid a worsening housing crisis. 

"Had the previous government taken the responsibility to build affordable housing, if they had valued that, thousands of people's lives would be different as a result," said Robinson. "And that's disappointing and sad."

Joo Kim Tiah, CEO and president of Holborn Group, right, shakes hands with Donald Trump in 2013 in Vancouver. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)

CBC made a Freedom of Information request in June 2018 to see the purchase agreement, but the returned documents were mostly redacted.

Holborn has argued releasing the information would be injurious to its business, however last week an adjudicator from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner ruled that B.C. Housing must release the agreement.

Holborn CEO Tiah Joo Kim also heads the company that owns Vancouver's Trump Hotel, which recently declared bankruptcy.

The Little Mountain site, which sits between 37th and 33rd avenues and Main and Ontario streets, was once home to a vibrant community of people living in 224 units of public housing built in the 1950s.

Housing activists unveiled this plaque at the former site of the Little Mountain public housing complex in Vancouver on Saturday April, 8, 2017. (CBC)

It was originally managed by the federal government before being transferred to B.C. Housing in 2007. In 2008 it was privatized in the sale to Holborn.

The following year, Holborn tore down the buildings with a promise to build 1,400 market value homes, 234 units of social housing, and other amenities like child care, a community plaza and park.

Evicted residents were told they could return once the new social housing units were completed, but since then only one permanent building has been constructed while the remainder of the site looks like a giant abandoned lot.

Housing activists and former residents have staged rallies at the site over the years, even erecting a plaque in 2017 commemorating the lands as The Rich Coleman Vacant Lot, in recognition of the former Liberal housing minister who oversaw the Holborn deal. 

Rendering for Little Mountain rezoning plan. Over a decade after social housing on the site was torn down, only one permanent building has been constructed. (Holborn/City of Vancouver)

Robinson says B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson should answer for the Little Mountain sale. Wilkinson was not an MLA when the deal was struck. 

"The B.C. Liberals made a bad deal, Holborn is deciding to withhold from the deal they benefited from, and we are essentially stuck," she said. "At the end of the day Wilkinson has to wear it and we'll have to fix it."

The B.C. Liberals did not respond to a request for comment before publication. 

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