Begun in 2008 and in continuous evolution and production since that time, The Little Mountain Project is a multi-platform hyperlocal documentary project. It is both a continuously updated website that provides independent information about the redevelopment of the Little Mountain Housing Project, and a place where you can gain insight into the progress of the feature documentary film Champions of Little Mountain.
CHAMPIONS OF LITTLE MOUNTAIN is a feature documentary, currently in post production. Ten years in the making, it is a significant element of The Little Mountain Project and is scheduled for completion in 2018.
View the most up to date trailer for the film below:
A SHORT SYNOPSIS of THE FEATURE DOCUMENTARY
The Little Mountain Housing Project was built in early 1950’s and Vancouver’s oldest and most successful social housing complex.
In 2006 the Canadian Government divested its Public Housing properties to the provinces. In 2007, the BC government embarked on an aggressive plan to demolish its newly acquired public housing properties, and sell the lands to private developers. Little Mountain was to be the first of many to be redeveloped. They would build high density market housing on the property and a small portion of the land would be retained as Public Housing (the same number of units as was built at Little Mountain in 1954). Working on behalf of the BC government, BC Housing claimed that profits from the sale would be spread across the province to other communities suffering similar housing crises, and would be used in Vancouver, to fund the construction of new Social Housing in Vancouver, aimed at alleviating homelessness based on mental health and drug addiction issues.
It’s important to note, that there was to be no new funding for Public Housing — the kind of housing that Little Mountain represented — offered by the province. The definitions of Public Housing and Social Housing have been blurred over the past decade to the advantage of the government, and both forms of housing are hugely important to the future of this city. When they said they were building new Social Housing for occupants of the Downtown East Side, they were in fact rebuilding the mental health infrastructure of British Columbia, with dollars generated through the destruction of low-income Public Housing. In a city facing a housing crisis as deep and as tragic as the one that now faces us, this would seem to be a policy headed for disaster — but on with the story.
A number of the tenants – with strong support of the surrounding neighbourhood – protested the demolition of the well established community at many well organized events.
One by one BC Housing drew Little Mountain’s families into their Relocation Office and had them sign their exit contracts with the (unwritten) promise that they would return to new Public Housing by 2010. Most of them assumed that they were moving to temporary lodgings and therefore were ready to lose homes, and face the short-term hardship of breaking their connections to their community and their friends — essentially losing their social capital.
Social Capital is a common term used by civic planners and housing policy-makers to describe how communities are interconnected. Social capital is essential to low income communities, which often have an economy of sharing and caring for one another, developed over many years, mitigating the lack of employment income in their lives. The occupants of the Little Mountain Housing Project did not realize however, that the BC Government had no real interest in the redevelopment of Little Mountain. Their interest was focussed on what they were planning to do with the money, once they had sold and demolished it.
By the end of 2009 BC Housing’s Relocation Office had almost completed the job, but as Vancouver’s largest and oldest social housing complex was flattened and ground into rubble, the silhouette of one building remained. In that last building were the last three families who had pushed back: an elderly mother and her adult daughter; an aged blind couple, and a middle-aged woman and her cat. In the court of public opinion, they had swayed City Council, successfully challenged BC Housing’s relocation tactics and won the right to remain in their homes until new Public Housing was built.
Champions of Little Mountain tells their story and that of the community who stood beside them and helped them make their case. But there was more to come.
By the end of 2012, a short hiatus was over, and hostilities resumed. BC Housing struck once again at the remaining tenants. Claiming that “groundwater testing” and the imminent start of new construction necessitated the demolition of the last building, they proceeded to serve eviction notices to the last tenants. Once again the community mobilized around them. As the eviction date loomed, I recorded the human drama that took place within the homes of tenants facing eviction. A series of screenings of short unfinished films, hastily edited together from my years of filmmaking at Little Mountain served to focus public attention on the crisis, and generated significant press.
In October of 2012, I presented to Vancouver City Councillors, a five minute excerpt from the Little Mountain Project titled “The Eviction of Sammy and Joan”. This was a pivotal moment in the campaign. Nevertheless, there were many partners in that victory including the Renters Union and their army of volunteers, many former Vancouver civic planners and educators who were ready to speak out at a rally scheduled for the day of the hearing, and of course David Chudnovsky, who advocated on behalf of the tenants at their first RTB hearing.
We won, but we did more than quash the eviction notices.
WE CHANGED HOUSING POLICY: Municipal bylaws came into existence in order to put a halt to premature demolition of Vancouver’s existing Public Housing assets – such as the experieince at Little Mountain.
WE WON A MAJOR CONCESSION: We fast-tracked the construction of one new building at Little Mountain: a four story building containing 54 units of Public Housing for senior citizens. At long last, a new building for Sim and Joan Chang – years ahead of any significant movement by the developer.
The victories at Little Mountain sent an important message to other communities (across Canada) under duress. And although it’s a truism it bears repeating that we have no rights unless we fight for them, here as in anywhere else in the world.
But the victory was bitter sweet. The battles with BC Housing took their toll on the health of Sammy and Joan Chang, the oldest tenants at Little Mountain. I watched their health deteriorate throughout the following two years. I recorded their life stories for the documentary, before they passed away. Of the other two champions still living at Little Mountain. Ingrid Steenhuisen moved into the new building, and Karin Nicholetti moved away.
I continue to work on the feature documentary. I shot the ribbon cutting of one new building in March of 2015. Vancouver City Council approved the developer’s rezoning application in July of 2016, Production of the feature documentary will be complete when final interviews have been done. The film will be complete by 2018, but ten years since I began this film project there is nothing built, save for that which the last tenants fought for and won. The rest of the vacant site is a lesson to everyone in this city. A lesson dearly paid for, by the community that was destroyed to create it.
What is a Hyperlocal Documentary?
For more about The Hyperlocal Documentary click this link.
The RPSC and CALM have been fighting for a community-based vision since the beginning. Read this article from The Mainlander, and Tommy Thomson’s definitive MA thesis on Little Mountain, The life and death of the Little Mountain Housing Project.
The link at the top-right of this web-page does not automatically keep you updated of new postings – though it should (don’t ask me why it doesn’t) You need to set up RSS on your own computer. It’s very easy, so click on this link for a YouTube video about it.
NOTE: This project has NO AFFILIATION WHATSOEVER with the City of Vancouver Planning Department or The Holborn Group, the developer of the property, or the Government of British Columbia/BC Housing. Please be aware that the project that calls itself The Little Mountain Project Newsletter, is a publicity operation of The Holborn Group.
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