More than two dozen supporters of an affordable housing proposal that was defeated by Surrey council in July gathered Friday (Sept. 24) at what was to have been the site of the six-storey building.
Organized by UNITI – a partnership of Semiahmoo House Society, Peninsula Housing Estates and The Semiahmoo Foundation – the event, held at the corner of 151 Street and 20 Avenue, included installation of signage that’s intended to showcase the range of individuals who would have benefited from the project.
With the message, ‘Real people. Real need. Because everyone has a right to a home in their community,’ the sign features portraits of a senior, a woman in glasses, a young man in a ball cap and a young lady with developmental disabilities.
It was affixed over top of the green City of Surrey sign that outlined the development proposal.
UNITI chief executive officer Doug Tennant said Monday (Sept. 27) that the intent of the sign is to be “a beacon for people who desperately need housing, and for them to know UNITI will not give up on them.”
Surrey council on July 27 defeated the Harmony project on a 5-3 vote, following a public hearing that stretched more than three hours. During the hearing, the majority of 60-plus people who called to weigh in on the project had expressed support, citing a “critical” need for the type of housing proposed and excitement at potentially calling it home.
Petitions and correspondence received by the city to that point also showed a majority in support.
The building was to include a combination of inclusive, affordable and close-to-market-rate units, and more than 200 people had expressed interest in living there, according to UNITI officials.
Area residents who spoke against the project were not opposed to the concept, but said they were not OK with its height. The proposal sought to vary the allowed height to 19.2 metres from 13 metres.
One neighbour told council the project would “forever” change the neighbourhood, while others questioned future plans to expand on the site and said consultation was lacking.
Monday (Sept. 27), neighbour Neil Floyd said residents who opposed the project are taking umbrage with the suggestion their opposition was simply NIMBYism.
They are South Surrey residents in precarious housing who just want a home. Seniors. Students. People with disabilities. Families. Yet the mayor only listened to a small group of NIMBY neighbours. He did not listen to the people who needed a home. 3/5 pic.twitter.com/HXWsrnD8SE
— Doug Tennant (@DouglasRTennant) September 25, 2021
“If this was really about the urgency to build a home for those so desperately needing social housing… why didn’t “Unity” make concessions to have something built and move forward in stages rather than take the position of it being a six storey building or nothing,” Floyd said by email.
Floyd said those who attended Friday’s new-signage event were urged to vote for a new mayor who would support social housing.
“They appear to want this to be a political issue and I really hope that they will work with us to find a solution that works for everyone concerned,” Floyd said.
In an emailed statement to Peace Arch News, the chair of UNITI’s board of directors noted the project had met all of the city’s criteria, and said UNITI was “surprised and discouraged that the concerns of some neighbours regarding a height variance was prioritized over 91 needy families who are desperately seeking safe, stable, affordable, and inclusive housing.”
“The Board continues to discuss and strategize how to move the project forward in a way that is approvable and buildable to City Council and still financially viable for a non-profit,” added Bea Hadikin.
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