The Onni Development Group had purchased the site which included George Pearson Centre at 700 West 57th Avenue from the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority when the Provincial Liberal government was in power.
This is a recycled Tuberculosis hospital from 70 years ago that houses 114 residents with complex and medical care conditions. These are the most vulnerable people, and if you have not been in this facility you do not know the lack of attention and privacy these individuals are subject to. The residents drew names out of a hat to see who would be the first able to leave this outdated facility, and those 44 residents were to move in to Cambie Gardens, built on the same large site, as of June 2022. The occupancy permits were in place, but the titles were not registered to the health authority.
One sister of a resident went to the media to describe the conditions of George Pearson Centre and the fact that there was no air conditioning or fans despite summer sweltering heat. She had arrived to find her brother in medical distress from being placed in the sunlight and being unable to move.
These are not people that can go and protest at the Onni Development Group’s head office or construction site when the occupancy date came and went.
It turned out that the Onni Development Group had not granted title for these units to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, and were using the residents as pawns in an unrelated dispute with the City of Vancouver over the Onni Development Group’s heat plant that was to power the heat and hot water in the development.
There are two issues here and no satisfactory solution. The vulnerable residents of George Pearson Centre can commence to move into their units as of October 4. But the intention is for only three residents a week to move in, meaning that the move for everyone will not be completed for four months to February 2023.
You can imagine how agonizing that must be for the residents at the end of the moving in line.
The second issue is about what the Onni Development Group was disputing with the City of Vancouver.
You can read about energy poverty here: that is what is being anticipated this winter in the United Kingdom, with skyrocketing heating costs for residents, who cannot afford to pay the increases. Controlling heat and hot water is also a new play for developers, who create their own heating facility, and then can charge residents for access.
The Westbank Developments group under Ian Gillespie has purchased the downtown district energy utility, and renamed it Creative Energy. The Onni Development Group has the monopoly of the energy for the whole Cambie Gardens site and called it Cambie Gardens Limited Partnership (CGLP).
Even though BC Hydro provides 98 percent of its power from clean renewable resources, the City of Vancouver has required new development to have their own sustainable heat and hot water plants. But it appears that the Onni Development Group applied to the B.C. Utilities Commission and received some exemptions from the Utilities Commission Act which appear inequitable.
And that’s the second issue: that exemption allows the Onni Group to set their own rates between different type of units, potentially charging the social housing and disabled units more. The developer is exempted from Section 45 of the UCA which forbids setting discriminatory or preferential rates. It also exempts the developer from oversight from the Commission.
Now George Pearson Residents have to wait another four months to complete the move to their new units in Cambie Gardens. And it appears that the developers have found another way to ding those social housing units with potentially high heating and hot water costs.