A public hearing on Bosa Properties’ proposal to build 1,200 luxury condominiums in Whalley at a site currently occupied by temporary modular housing became a lightning rod for commentary on a class struggle between haves and have-nots in Surrey’s city centre.
The proposal, for 13584-104 Avenue and 13550-105 Avenue, includes three high‐rise buildings and two low‐rise buildings, with the first phase consisting of a 40‐storey residential tower with commercial space on the ground floor. The developer wants to build on a lot where low-income tenants of Nickerson Place modular housing live.
Nikerson Place, run by Lookout Housing and Health Society, provides tenants with rent set at $375 per month for two years.
Council gave Bosa a third-reading nod of approval, following the public hearing on May 25.
“We are building modular shelters, in fact one is under construction at approximately 108th and King George,” Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum noted. “There will be another one built in Guildford and another one built in Newton and other sites are also going to have building on them and we are also into a fairly large building in Green Timbers that also is in the start of construction.”
Councillor Steven Pettigrew said he would not support the Bosa application.
“The people that spoke tonight, especially the ones that live in the area and the ones that are talking about social housing, that made a big impact on me,” Pettigrew said. “I hadn’t considered that, in the light that they are saying. They had some very valid points.”
Councillor Brenda Locke said the city has to find a new place for the modular housing tenants to live, and asked for a timeline between when the city has “our next builds happen” and the Nickerson trailers being removed. City staff said there is a modular project slated for completion in August.
During the public hearing, Surrey resident Dave Diewert, of Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism, expressed his opposition. His group describes itself as a revolutionary working class and Indigenous organization.
Diewert noted that Whalley now has five shelters, three temporary modular housing projects, social and supportive housing sites, health and harm reduction services and “a multitude of people living on the streets or in the bushes.”
“Whalley is home to hundreds upon hundreds of homeless and low-income residents who are in desperate need of dignified housing, that is welfare rate or the rate of old-age pensions, adequate to meet their needs, secure from immanent displacement and resident control,” he told council.
“So along come billionnaire developers who scoop up properties that are reduced in value because, well, the area, with such high concentrations of poor people and services, has been neglected and undervalued, and they scoop them up with designs for massive re-development that cater to wealthy investors and business operators,” Diewert said.
“What we can see is there is a war on the poor here in Surrey, and tonight in this very bureaucratic, administrative rezoning process we see the banal face of that war.”
Isabel Krupp, also with Red Braid Alliance, said she is a resident of Vancouver but works in Surrey. Whalley, she noted, is historically a low-income neighbourhood.
“All of Whalley is under attack and the City of Surrey is leading the charge with the gentrification scheme known as the City Centre Plan, which rebrands the neighbourhood and promotes Whalley as a site for ‘pedestrian-oriented eclectic shopping experience,” Krupp said. “But this experience, this so-called experience, fundamentally excludes anyone that doesn’t have the disposable income you need to be a consumer. The City Centre Plan describes the beautification of Whalley, but what’s beautiful about towering condos making real estate developers but displacing the poor, displacing the poor to nowhere? We can read between the lines, beauty means the absence of visible poverty.”
Wanda Stopa also spoke. “I just think it’s wrong to be displacing people out of their homes that they can afford because they’re in low-income housing,” she said.
Kristina Freberg lives in the modular housing at that site. “I’m wondering where we’re going to go, where are we going to have homes, when this happens?” she asked. “There’s gotta be a way for everyone to work together and for the developer to maybe include some homes for the rest of us too, right?”
“Can’t we find a way to include everybody in it all?”
Maggie Anderson, of no fixed address, had this to say. “Really, Surrey doesn’t need any more condos being put up when we are in desperate need of social housing or low income housing,” she said. “I speak for myself as a single parent with nowhere to live.”
Meantime, Deb Jack, of Surrey Environmental Partners, said “there ought to be more greenery” and Richard Landale argued that according to the “rule of thumb,” there should be 0.5 parking spaces per unit.
“And that is why I say there has to be at least 2,704 off-street parking spaces,” he said.