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Debate over social-housing tower comes to Mount Pleasant

January 21st, 2010 · 69 Comments

There’s been a lot of concern in my neighbourhood over the planned social-housing project at the corner of Broadway and Fraser, just the latest of what seems like an ongoing series of neighbourhood unhappiness over density, towers, or social housing.

Cheryl Rossi at the Courier has done a story here on what the active neighbourhood group has to say. This is the first of the social housing projects coming to ground outside the Downtown Eastside, so it will be interesting to see how this conversation evolves. It will for sure give everyone an idea of what the conversation might be like for the project at 16th and Dunbar.

It’s easy sometimes for planners and housing groups to write off all opposition as just ignorant NIMBYism. And there is some of that going around in this neighbourhood, for sure. But that’s not the end of the story.

I went to a very thoughtful thesis defence in SFU’s Urban Studies department this week, where the thesis writer looked at the way a closer analysis of opposition to projects shows that, while NIMBYism can and usually is present at the fringes, there is also some very laudable citizen vigilance that is well rooted in concern for the community that happens in these cases.

That’s what I heard when I dropped in on the open house last night for the Broadway/Fraser project. As is always the case with “public consultation” these days, the open houses are always designed to split people up, rather than have a big open meeting, so that the angry ranters don’t get a chance to dominate.

That’s good, but I was struck by what I noticed in the conversations I had, which was a tendency among the explainers (city planners, architects, housing groups) to take on a tone of “but you just don’t realize the facts and I’m now going to explain them to you.” Very annoying, as it felt like I wasn’t really being listened to. (Something that made me pause, as I realize I’ve likely frequently been guilty of that in the past myself.)

In the small groups I eavesdropped on, it sounded as though others were having the same experience and not being persuaded by it. One explainer said the neighbourhood didn’t have to worry about problems with the project because there had been a housing project built on Fraser and everyone had been worried about that, but it was completely unnoticeable now that it was up. But, said the woman listening, that project was much smaller, only 30 or so units, and this was is 100. And the people accepted there were people who’d gone through rehab; this one is for people who still have a lot of problems that aren’t going away any time soon.

There’s another whole group of people who completely support social housing and are willing to be persuaded that there will be enough staffing to ensure the project doesn’t become a magnet for trouble, but they hate the form of the building — a 10-storey tower on a stretch of Broadway that is one or two storey — mini-malls, 1930s-era apartments, 1960s-era apartments and the like. Again, the explainers kindly informed me that this is a form that’s much preferred in Vancouver so that people’s views can be preserved (really? you’re kidding me) and that as Broadway develops, everything will rise to that kind of height.

Also wading into the discussion is a group that has set up a Facebook site in support of the project. I’m pasting in the email I got from them below, but before I get to that, I’d just like to express a perhaps naive and idealistic hope that all groups here could actually listen to each other, not just label each other as “hippy dippy bleeding heart who owns no property and doesn’t realize the impact that is going to have” or “heartless homeowner who only cares about his/her property values and would rather see people die in the street.”

Pretty much everyone who lives in this neighbourhood realizes there are quite a few homeless or marginally housed people around. Many just try to get by. A few cause some real problems. We’d all like to see people living indoors rather than in our alleys. If everyone could start from there.

In the meantime, here’s the email from “the other side.”

Hello,

This past Sunday myself and a few friends created a Facebook group to support the Broadway Youth Resource Centre and the expansion of its facilities. We were disappointed to receive a leaflet in the mail recently from a group opposing the BYRC project and wanted to show our support. Since Sunday we’ve had more than 200 people join the group and I’ve been contacted by countless people wanting to get involved to stand up for the BYRC.

Many folks speak highly of the amazing work that the BYRC does for youth in our community – including counseling and peer support, helping youth to find employment and housing, holding high school classes onsite to help youth get their high school diploma – these are just a few of the amazing programs run by the BYRC.

If you take a moment to go and visit the BYRC at Fraser and Broadway one of the first things you’ll see are the beautiful murals across from and kitty-corner to their building. These murals were a collaboration between local artists and youth from the BYRC and represent the diverse backgrounds of the youths that access the BYRC and also serve to beautify our community.

I appreciate some of the concerns raised by the group opposing the BYRC project and think that some of these concerns need to be addressed. I often worry about the lack of support provided by the Provincial government to supportive and social housing and believe that more detox, treatment and counseling programs need to be available to assist folks dealing with addictions issues. But first and foremost people need homes to get healthy and that is often the initial step needed for someone to begin to deal with difficulties in their lives.

I also take the opposition group’s comments with a grain of salt. If you visit their website – www.mountpleasantneighbours.org the top link on their site is for a group called NIABY – which stands for “Not in anyone’s backyard”-  www.niaby.com

This site is encourages fear and negative stereotypes around people dealing with drug addiction issues. The quote on the top of the NIABY site reads “Drug treatment centers, halfway houses, and homeless shelters are facilities specifically designed for borderline populations that suffer from high criminality and drug uses and have been shown to attract drug market.”

Based on this information and some of the other links found on the mountpleasantneighbours.org site, I worry that the opposition group, while purporting to have concerns about the way in which the BYRC site is going to be managed (all of which can likely be addressed by the BYRC/Native Housing Society), they may in fact be more concerned with property values and crime issues. These kinds of points are often put forth by groups that oppose social housing projects, but more often than not, turn out to be false.

I will be at tonight’s open house (Jan 20th) at the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House at 6:30pm with my friends and neighbours to show the City and our neighbours that we support the BYRC, that we support building more homes for the homeless, and that we believe Vancouver is for everyone!

Please feel free to contact me at sianmj@gmail.com or check out our Facebook Group called “Vancouver is for Everyone: Support the Broadway Youth Resource Centre” for more info.

Thanks,

Sian

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