Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society (ENFHS) is redeveloping Alma Blackwell (AB) (1656 Adanac Street) – destroying a building that is iconic in East Vancouver, a visible legacy of feminism and the struggle for decent, low rise rental housing, pioneered by single mothers – without considering repair of the building and is sending people who need affordable housing into the street to build affordable housing for other people.
GWAC hosted a meeting of the tenants of the Alma Blackwell Society recently.
In the early 1980s, a small group of women decided they needed a safe affordable place to live and to develop a community for women and their children. To achieve their ends, they established a Housing Society called “Entre Nous Femmes” which eventually built and developed the 46-unit Alma Blackwell housing project at 1656 Adanac Street, named after the grandmother of one of the group’s founders.
Alma Blackwell rapidly became the community the founders hoped for. Many women in need and their children lived in the housing project, often for decades. It has continued to thrive as a community and its success created the ability for the Housing Society to build more and more similar projects until today, ENF has eleven buildings in Vancouver.
Although not legally structured as a co-op, the ENF project operated within that milieu: the residents helped build and maintain the buildings, and controlled the Society. However, as the years passed, the governance became more and more removed from the residents, more distant, until today the residents are not only not allowed to be directors of the society, and are routinely refused access to the Society’s minutes, they even find it difficult to find out who is a director of their Society.
That change in governance has been matched by the recent unwillingness of the Society to maintain the property in a fit and livable manner. Moreover, a number of vacancies have occurred over the last couple of years which the Society has seen fit not to fill — even while the City suffers its worst ever housing crisis. This led to suspicions that something big was afoot — but the Society would not explain to the residents except to suggest that the Society did not have the funds needed to keep the building in good repair. When asked for details of the repair costs, the Society refused to respond to residents’ requests.
In April this year, Vancouver City Council approved a motion that doubled the height of buildings allowed in certain zones, including the RM-3A zone in which Alma Bakewell sits. Almost immediately thereafter, plans to demolish Alma Bakewell and replace it with a much larger building were bruited and the residents were given, by a consultant hired by the Society, an unofficial official eviction notice.
Since that time, the Society has essentially refused to speak with the residents except to pressure several of them to accept relocation to other facilities. The Society has no formal Tenant Relocation Plan, is not offering any compensation, and in at least one case offered a resident a mere 24 hours to decide whether she and her child would move from the their decades-long home and move to another building, the details of which were not disclosed.
This story, and plenty of others, were movingly told by Alma Bakewell residents at last night’s Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) meeting. All the talk was about how great a community had been fostered at Alma Bakewell; people have lived there long enough to have children and grandchildren. They are a close-knit family-like community with good and close ties to the rest of the neighbourhood. Many of the residents are teachers at Britannia.
It seemed a unanimous opinion of the large gathering at the meeting that it is simply ridiculous to destroy a perfectly good low-income community just to build a larger facility that will have to start from scratch once again after a gap of who-knows-how-many years. It is pointless from a neighbourhood point of view, and it is highly destructive to the current residents, families who have spent years developing and nurturing that community.
Councillor Jean Swanson attended the meeting and will be asking a number of questions of staff. However, she was pessimistic about the chances of reversing the course of this development, given the current majority on Council and the previously-approved zoning adjustment. No matter. The wider Grandview community needs to speak up about this, and I hope we can speak so loudly that we cannot be ignored.
The topic of this month’s meeting is the renovictions and demovictions of apartment buildings in Grandview as a direct result of changes in zoning.
Steve Bohus will provide us with a bit of the background and an overview of what’s been happening in Grandview since the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan was approved by Council, including the changes that were introduced only last April. These have had a profound impact on potential redevelopment of perfectly good mature housing stock.
After Steve’s summary, we’ll hear first-hand from the people who live at the 1970s Alma Blackwell development on Adanac Street, who are in danger of losing their current secure housing. Rather than repairing and maintaining the development and keeping their tight-knit community together, the society that manages their project, Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society, intends to demolish it and build new — taller buildings with smaller units.
Understanding Vancouver Rats A Discussion about Rats, Other “Urban Wildlife” and Tips for How to Live with Them This Monday, July 5th at 7:00PM
Dr. Kaylee Byers will speak about the Vancouver Rat Project, Canada’s first interdisciplinary program of research which studies urban rats, the risks they pose to human health, and how we can better manage and live with them. Bring your questions.
Just a reminder that there will be no August meeting during our usual summer break. See you all in September.
No Megatowers at Safeway The No Megatowers citizens’ group has lawn signs available for supporters. If you’d like a sign, get in touch at: email@example.com. More information at: nosafewaymegatowers.ca.
For reference, we’ve reproduced the following details about meetings related to the topic of non-market housing on the Britannia Community Centre Campus:
JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON NON-MARKET HOUSING The Britannia Renewal Master Plan identifies opportunities to locate non-market housing at the renewed Britannia site. Help us understand opportunities and concerns relating to this by sharing your thoughts at one of our online events: WHAT? Community Conversations: Non-Market Housing
We would like your feedback on a rezoning application at 1885 E Pender St. The proposal is to allow for the development of a 6-storey social housing building for the Aaron Webster Housing Cooperative. The zoning would change from RM-4 (Residential) to CD-1 (Comprehensive Development) District. This proposal includes:
64 social housing units as defined by the City of Vancouver’s Zoning and Development Bylaw
A floor space ratio (FSR) of 2.92
A floor area of 4,805 sq. m (51,718 sq. ft.)
A building height of 19.5 m (64 ft.)
29 vehicle parking spaces and 144 bicycle parking spaces
Susanne Dahlin, Chair of the Britannia Planning and Development Committee, will provide some context for our discussion of the proposal from the City of Vancouver to include up to 300 units of residential housing on the Britannia Community Centre site, as part of the Renewal process. Following Ms. Dahlin’s introduction, GWAC will lead a series of discussions to better understand the preferences of the participants regarding housing on the community centre site.
Grandview Heritage Group https://grandviewheritagegroup.ca We meet to talk about the history of the Grandview neighbourhood of Vancouver, BC, including the heritage buildings, commercial history, and the evolution of our dynamic high street, Commercial Drive. Join us! We meet most months on the third Thursday at 7:00 pm, currently via Zoom. To get in touch with us, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grandview Garden Club https://grandviewgardenclub.blogspot.com We have a speaker every month on a topic of relevance to Vancouver gardeners. Yearly membership is $20 and we meet via Zoom on the second Thursday of the month at 7:00 p.m. A Zoom meeting link is sent to members a few days before each meeting. (When we return to face-to-face meetings, we’ll invite occasional drop-ins again.) Our past two meeting topics were “How to use shrubs as small trees in your urban garden” and “Ferns”. The joy of Zoom meetings means we can recruit speakers from outside Vancouver. For April, the talk will be “Attracting birds to your garden”. Join the club! To get in touch with us, email email@example.com.
Britannia Neighbours http://britannianeighbours.blogspot.com We are a little group that looks after the Napier Square Greenway (between Choices and Sweet Cherubim at the Napier St. entry to Britannia). We’ve been maintaining this garden for over 20 years! Weather permitting, we meet most spring, summer, and fall, on Monday afternoons at 3:00 to weed, prune, plant, rake, chat. We learn a lot about gardening and we invite you to join us. Please wear a mask and bring your own tools for COVID safety. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.