It’s difficult for Amanda Moses and her family to picture living anywhere but the Alma Blackwell on Adanac Street.
The three-storey affordable housing complex in East Vancouver has been their home for nearly nine years, and during that time, they’ve become part of its loving community.
“There’s nowhere else like this in the city,” Moses said in an interview.
“I’ve lived in co-ops before, this was the closest I could get to that — being in a community, neighbours helping each other — thinking about not being here is pretty hard.”
The Alma Blackwell and its 46 units, run by the non-profit Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society (ENFHS), is slated for demolition and redevelopment, although a date has not yet been determined.
The society informed tenants of the redevelopment plan in April 2021 before applying to the City of Vancouver for a development permit.
A six-storey, 95-unit complex will be built in the Alma Blackwell’s place and the rent is expected increase by more than double for some tenants — from $1,600 for a three-bedroom unit to $3,250.
In a recent letter to local MP Jenny Kwan, B.C. minister responsible for housing, David Eby, writes that ENFHS “will ensure that all tenants have appropriate relocation plans in place while the site is rebuilt.” The society has also offered Alma Blackwell tenants the opportunity to return to the new building under new rent rates, he said.
Moses, a single mother and social worker, said that offer is no good to her. Her income, like many other tenants in the complex, has not increased in step with the dramatic market increase in rent.
“In the middle of a pandemic, they’re telling us we’re losing our housing,” said Moses.
“That’s a shock — not just having to move, but the rents that you see out there, the market rents. It’s astounding and impossible for people from this building.”
Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Fifteen-year-old Charles Roberts-Moses said he’s worried about the promised “relocation” plan. He doesn’t know if it’s he, his sister and mother will be able to stay in the neighbourhood, close to his school, his friends and his father.
“We’re probably not going to be able to stay in Vancouver, right? So I’m not sure about school or what’s going to happen with that,” he said.
It’s difficult for a teenager to start over in a new place, he added.
“I’ve been here so long, I know my way around, there’s so much great stuff that’s available because it’s a community. It’s nice to know people around you.”
Eby was not available for an interview on this story on Wednesday, and neither was anyone at the City of Vancouver or BC Housing.
In an emailed statement, BC Housing said the Alma Blackwell’s redevelopment is the most viable option due to the “significant renovations” that would be required to keep it running, including water penetration of the exterior building, window replacement, and general wear and tear.
“BC Housing requires thorough engagement with tenants during any project requiring relocation and redevelopment of social housing, alongside support with temporary relocation, compensation for movement costs and offers of right to return after construction has been carried out,” wrote senior communications advisor Henry Glazebrook.
“This process is already underway through ENFHS to ensure all residents are connected with appropriate housing that suits their individual needs prior to redevelopment work beginning.”
The majority of tenants who choose to move into the redeveloped complex afterward, he added, “will continue to have rent determined through rent-geared-to-income rates.”
Although the redevelopment is taxpayer-funded, BC Housing would not tell Global News what the contract is worth because a deal has not been finalized.
Linsea O’Shea, an Alma Blackwell tenant of 19 years, said she doubts that renovation is not a viable option for the building, which was constructed in the 1980s. She and other tenants have asked for a cost-benefit analysis and filed a freedom of information request for more details, but have not received responses.
Many of the Alma Blackwell’s occupants are now in a state of “despair,” she told Global News.
“I’ve had a lot of questions and not any answers,” she told Global News. “We’re kind of lost right now, it feels pretty hopeless.”
Rents in the current market are “mortgage-worthy,” she added, and some of the tenants may be forced into that market if they don’t meet the financial requirements for the new affordable units.
“I’m going to stay here until the wrecking ball because it’s my best interest to do so because I can’t afford to move into the current market,” she said.
In written statement, the City of Vancouver said has heard concerns from tenants that earn salaries above the social housing limit, but may not qualify to return to this building once completed.
“We acknowledge that the redevelopment of this site means that people must move and that it’s a very stressful and difficult time for tenants,” wrote communications manager Neal Wells.
“To ensure that the future housing needs of all tenants are met, the City has a Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy which requires tenants to be rehoused in homes that are affordable to them, or financially compensated.”
ENFHS has hired a tenant relocation specialist to support the residents, he added.