Updated: May 29, 2022
In a blow to inclusive and affordable housing, Surrey city council rejected the Harmony Apartments development to provide housing to persons with disabilities and other housing barriers.
By Spencer van Vloten
July 28th, 2021
Despite overwhelming community support, the Harmony Apartments development to provide inclusive and affordable quality housing to Surrey residents with disabilities and other barriers to housing was rejected 5-3 by city council on Tuesday July 27th.
Spencer van Vloten talked with Doug Tennant, CEO of UNITI, the non-profit leading the Harmony development, to get his reaction to the decision.
Spencer: How are you feeling now that city council rejected Harmony?
Doug: We’re resilient. UNITI's existed for 63 years. If Harmony isn’t going to be built through this council, we’ll just build affordable and inclusive housing on that property when we have leadership that understands the need for it.
So I don’t feel bad for UNITI, but who I feel really bad for, are the many people we’ve talked with who were desperately looking forward to Harmony as a place they could call home.
These are people with intellectual disabilities who are living with aging parents; these are 80-year-old women who’ve been evicted from basements. These are the people who don’t have affordable places to live in South Surrey.
Despite overwhelming community support for Harmony, Surrey city council voted against it
It may not happen with the current city council, but we look forward to the time when Surrey understands and achieves its mandate of affordable housing, rather than putting up barriers to it.
Spencer: What do you think of the reasons the councillors gave for voting against Harmony?
Doug: Amazingly, they gave no reason when they made the decision on Tuesday morning. That silence’s pretty telling—maybe they didn’t have a good reason.
Frankly, I don’t think it's respectful to the 6000 people who supported the Harmony petition, the 450 who wrote in to show their support, or all the people who phoned in. They deserved an explanation.
In the news, I have seen councillor Laurie Guerra say that there wasn’t enough public consultation, and that’s just not true; in fact, we went far above the consultation requirements and have been doing them for years on this.
Opposed: Laurie Guerra, Doug Elford, Mandeep Nagra, and Allison Patton were among the councillors to vote against the inclusive and affordable housing development
Other reasons that have been mentioned were that 6 stories is too high and would interfere with the view, but most people in the area won't even be able to see the building.
We're 120 meters from our northern neighbour, 70 meters from another neighbour, and separated by a major road from the other. There's no overhang or shadowing, and the businesses in the immediate area are in support too.
Most residents in the area wouldn't even be able to see the Harmony apartments (centre)
Here's what frustrates me.
Now, I don’t want our neighbours uncomfortable with seeing the building, but I weigh that against a person with a disability finally being able to have their own place, or an 80-year-old grandmother getting housing after being evicted from a basement suite.
The council cares more about privileged homeowners being able to enjoy the view than they do about finding housing for people in desperation.
Spencer: What makes Harmony so needed, and different from other developments, especially for persons with disabilities?
Doug: Harmony is desperately needed because there’s no inclusive housing reflective of the full community like we're building.
We're basing Harmony on Chorus, which has a record of success in providing housing to persons with disabilities that’s high quality and looks just as good or better than the housing around it, that’s safe and inclusive, and that’s in the community and around the places people want to visit.
We need housing for people with different abilities in the neighbourhood; we don't need to be excluding people in order to limit diversity.
Spencer: What now?
Doug: Right now we’ve done everything we can. We’ve addressed all the concerns that were raised, but this city council was never going to approve Harmony.
We’ll continue providing education on the need for affordable and inclusive housing for the community.
And if the mayor and council come to understand the desperate need for housing, they know how to get hold of me, the ball is in their court.
"If the mayor and council come to understand the desperate need for housing, they know how to get hold of me"
We'll never sell the Peninsula Acre property we own, where Harmony was going to go up.
Our vision to build a welcoming, inclusive place to live hasn't changed, it’s just delayed by a little bit until we have leaders that value it.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!