15. Homeless + GCL

Through “The Path Ahead,” the Richmond Review gathered readers’ ideas for stimulus projects. Many suggestions involved preserving the Garden City lands. Others aimed for social housing. Perhaps we can meet both goals at once.

Despite Richmond’s valiant poverty-response groups, homelessness is growing. That could change, thanks to a Richmond sixth-grader. Her published letter proposed homes for the homeless on the Garden City lands (Richmond News, Dec. 3, 2008).

I liked the thoughtfulness, but the lands belong in the Agricultural Land Reserve. A housing development seemed out of place.

Then I delved into the federal government’s Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative and discovered a treasure, its land-exchange provision.

I should describe the homelessness initiative first. It compensates federal departments and agencies at fair market value for surplus properties. It then transfers them to suitable organizations to reduce homelessness.

The program is relevant because the Garden City lands memorandum of understanding (MOU) could end with restoration of the four parties to their original positions, including federal ownership of the lands.

The lands might be transferred to Richmond from a federal department or perhaps simply from Canada Lands Company CLC, the federal land disposer entrusted with the lands.

Using the property-exchange provision, the City of Richmond might exchange the Garden City lands for equal-value non-ALR land, where the housing would be built.  A good location would be just across Alderbridge Way in the Alexandra area. The site would have to be worth about ten million dollars, since the memorandum sets the fair market value of the Garden City lands at $9.54 million.

B.C.’s Provincial Homelessness Initiative could help finance the construction of housing. It’s time to join the many cities that have partnered with the province in that program.

This all fits with the Sustainable Foods Systems Park proposal. You may recall how it caught the public imagination when put forward by the Richmond Poverty Response Committee and the Richmond Food Security Society.

That park proposal for the Garden City lands envisions food bank clients helping to produce food on community farms, and no doubt some might grow their own produce in community gardens. Homelessness clients could do the same.

That proposal was later enhanced by the Kwantlen Polytechnic University urban agriculture education proposal. The Kwantlen students would interact with the community gardeners and farmers. It would be one more way for needy people to receive a hand up.

Under the memorandum, Richmond will need to renegotiate with Canada Lands, the Musqueam Indian Band, and perhaps the federal government. Naturally, there are challenges there.

One challenge is exemplified by the Band’s 2007 threat of “an army of lawyers creating large legal bills for the city” (Richmond Review, June 5, 2007). Later that year, the province handed the Band a fortune in land and cash via the reconciliation agreement, and the City has also shown immense goodwill to both the Band and Canada Lands, but reciprocal goodwill has been less evident.

A bigger challenge is Canada Lands’ obsession with turning the Garden City lands into massive profits to ship to Ottawa, even though the federal intent was simply to “divest” the property “while realizing market value for the Crown and ensuring the site will be in good hands to plan its future on behalf of local needs and interests” (federal press release, March 2005).

The biggest challenge is the Richmond council minority who undermine the good politicians striving to save the lands. At a recent council meeting, for example, a couple of councillors proposed—with Musqueam and Canada Lands people listening—that any Richmond offer to obtain the whole property should be at Alexandra-area land prices. That would add a prohibitive $400-million cost to the property’s $9.54 million value.

Still, if the Band embraces reconciliation (the renewal of friendship), if Canada Lands follows its community-benefit mandate, and if Richmond council gets its act together, every party will end up happy, as will the neediest among us.

It can be done—if we’re as smart as a sixth-grader.

1 Comment »

  1. 1
    Margaret Says:

    What an exciting prospect for all concerned!

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