British Columbia

B.C. Housing ordered to reveal details of deal to sell Little Mountain lands to developer

The public may finally learn more about the details of the controversial Little Mountain land sale that resulted in the demolition of 224 units of social housing on the property that stands mostly vacant more than a decade later.

Agreement for sale of former social housing project must be public, rules adjudicator

The six-hectare Little Mountain site at Main Street and 33rd Avenue in Vancouver has been mostly vacant since the controversial 2009 demolition of 224 low-income row homes located there. (Holborn/City of Vancouver)

The public may finally learn more about the details of the controversial Little Mountain land sale in Vancouver. 

An Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) adjudicator has ruled that B.C. Housing, the government agency that sold the land back in 2008, must release the purchase agreement it struck with developer Holborn Holdings Ltd. 

The Little Mountain lands lie between 37th and 33rd avenues and Main and Ontario streets in Vancouver. The area used to be home to 224 units of social housing that were first completed in 1954. 

The ruling is a result of separate Freedom of Information requests filed by the CBC and former NDP MLA David Chudnovsky who is a long-standing opponent of the sale that affected hundreds of families. 

The CBC initially made its Freedom of Information request in June 2018, but the documents returned were mostly redacted. A request for review was made to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner that led to the recent order to release the documents. 

"How could we have a situation where we have a crisis in affordable housing and have this giant vacant lot?"  asked Chudnovsky. "If we can look at the contract, perhaps we'll understand for certain how this has come to be."

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)

The six-hectare site was initially managed by the federal government, but was transferred to the province and B.C. Housing in 2007. The land and its buildings were then privatized by the B.C. Liberal provincial government with a sale to Holborn in 2008. 

The developer's stated plan was to build 1,400 market value homes and 234 units of social housing, child care, a new community plaza and public park. The hundreds of residents who were evicted were told they could return once the new social housing units were completed, but that never happened. Most of the site has remained vacant for the past decade except for 53 units of social housing which opened in 2015.

Boarded up windows on the original Little Mountain social housing project before demolition. The homes were built in the 1950s and managed by the federal government until being transferred to B.C. Housing in 2007.

Chudnovsky is particularly interested in the sale price of the land and the provisions that may have allowed Holborn not to build for more than a decade. 

"If we find that the contract has within it more provisions that weren't in the interest of the people of the city, it underlines the argument that we've been making that the government should take back the mountain. That this deal has been a failure. There's a vacant lot 13 years later," he said.

Timeline for Release

The CBC requested an interview with both Holborn and B.C. Housing, but neither responded by deadline. 

Holborn argued in the OIPC proceedings that the release of the purchase agreement would harm its business.

"Individuals without knowledge in real estate without the knowledge to understand the complexity of the deal could incorrectly interpret the information," wrote the company's lawyers.

Those same people could  "interpret the information unfavourably to Holborn, which could be injurious to the interests of Holborn in attracting buyers for its property developments," they added.

But OIPC adjudicator Celia Francis disagreed in her ruling. "It is not clear how disclosure of the information at issue, which is now several years old, could reasonably be expected to cause the harm Holborn fears and Holborn did not explain," she wrote.  

The order stipulates that B.C. Housing must deliver the documents by Nov. 5, but the parties involved can still request a judicial review at the Supreme Court of British Columbia until Oct. 23.  

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