After exposure of Vancouver 'sweetheart deal,' B.C. promises action on social housing project

A little over a week after the exposure of a "sweetheart deal" in a major Vancouver social housing project, the province is promising action with an agreement to expedite construction.

According to B.C.'s Ministry of the Attorney General, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed regarding the Little Mountain development.

That MOU was signed by the province, City of Vancouver and Holborn Properties Ltd., the company that purchased prime land near Queen Elizabeth Park back in 2008.

The province says the MOU is "aimed at accelerating construction" at the site, a 15-acre parcel of land purchased for $344 million.

At the time it was purchased, hundreds of low-income families were evicted and their homes were destroyed. Holborn promised to build more social housing on the land, but so far, only a few dozen units have been built.

The contract, obtained by CTV News through the Freedom of Information process, shows the developer received a loan from the province of $211 million, which is interest-free until Dec. 31, 2026.

The contract did not appear to include a clear deadline as to when the housing units needed to be ready.

It was a contract described by David Chudnovsky, a former NDP MLA for the area, as a "sweetheart deal" and a "colossal failure."

The agreement was negotiated by the BC Liberals, who ran the province at that time.

Attorney General and Housing Minister David Eby was quick to point out that the deal didn't involve the NDP Government in his announcement of the MOU Friday.

"Enough is enough with the Little Mountain tragedy that was orchestrated by the previous government that resulted in a low-income community bulldozed, an interest-free loan of hundreds of millions of dollars and a massive empty lot growing weeds in the middle of a housing crisis," he said.

He stopped short of criticizing Holborn, saying "we wouldn't be here today" if the company hadn't agreed to drop its court action and make the contract public.

Eby called it a "good-faith gesture," which allowed for a new agreement, this time including a timeline. Holborn has been given until Dec. 31, 2024, to get the non-market housing ready.

When the contract was first obtained, CTV News reached out to Holborn Properties but did not receive a response.

In a statement from the province Friday, Holborn's principal, Joo Kim Tiah, called the MOU a commitment from all parties to "proceed expeditiously" on four non-market developments on the site.

When complete, the Little Mountain project will feature 282 new social housing units, 10 of which will be for members of the Musquem Nation.

A 53-unit rental project for seniors and people with disabilities opened six years ago, and a 62-unit project for families and seniors is set to be complete in winter 2022.

The site will also contain a daycare facility, a neighbourhood house and a public park. BC Housing will own 234 of the units, and the remaining 48 will be owned by the City of Vancouver.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's St. John Alexander