It’s a classic Kitsilano house from the early 20th century, one of a row of them on a quiet side street only three blocks from the water.
Like all of the houses in the area, its value has shot into the stratosphere in the last half century, and it was assessed at $2.89-million in the most recent year.
Now, the former home of Eric and Florence Pierce on West Third Avenue has been turned over to the City of Vancouver in perpetuity to be used for affordable housing and community activities – a rare occurrence. Mr. Pierce died in 2011.
That is the legacy of a quiet man and his wife who spent decades helping a cluster of regular Vancouverites live in the city by providing them with cheap housing in properties they owned around the city.
“Eric was so amazing. He had an apartment building on Fourth and he kept the rents at 1960 levels for people there. He may even have given the tenants that building,” remembers Jan Pierce (no relation), a long-time Kitsilano resident and historian who met Eric and Florence numerous times at community gatherings.
Many people have never heard of the Pierces, who were resolutely non-political, but who loved Kitsilano, where they’d lived since after the Second World War, loved heritage and believed in helping others with their housing costs.
Mr. Pierce, originally from Calgary, fought in the war and was the only survivor of his crew in North Africa when, just after he had finished a bombing operation in 1942, the airport was attacked by German planes. He made a point of saying in his will that he suffered from the after-effects his whole life and was grateful to his wife for the patience that allowed him to go on and be successful.
After studying at UBC, he worked first as a prison guard and then a deputy warden in B.C. jails. Along the way, he and Florence, whose religious beliefs drove their charitable work, acquired more properties that they made a point of renting out at low rates: three more houses in Kitsilano, one in Mount Pleasant and the apartment building.
As Mr. Pierce said in his will, he saw his job after his retirement in 1982 as “working part-time in the providing and managing affordable housing for people with marginal income.”
Although Mr. Pierce died nine years after his wife, the house didn’t pass into the city’s control until 2016, because of provisions Mr. Pierce made to let family members run the rental operations as long as they wanted.
Now that the house is in the city’s control, it is advertising for a non-profit to run the house in accordance with Mr. Pierce’s wishes.
News of the house’s future comes as a surprise to at least some residents on the block.
Anita Lindsay, who lives across the street, knew nothing about it. Although she is pleased to see the house will be retained permanently as a heritage building – a relief after some older houses in the area have been demolished and replaced with modern structures – she wonders how the city’s management plan will work out.
“I just think it would be a shame if it’s not done properly.”
At least one local group is interested in doing it properly.
Former NDP MP and MLA Ian Waddell, who now does volunteer work with the Heritage Vancouver Society, says the group has put in a bid to run the house.
The group is proposing using the basement as a headquarters for Heritage Vancouver and a meeting place for other community organizations, and renting the upstairs at below-market rates to a family and an Indigenous student going to the University of B.C. affiliated with a scholarship program.
According to the city’s requirements, any group running the house will have to spend at least $25,000 a year to keep its standing on the heritage register, as well as the $10,000 a year in city taxes, and other operating expenses.
“The city could just rent it out but they are trying to implement Eric’s wishes,” Mr. Waddell said. “And this preserves the cultural heritage that is the postwar story of Vancouver.”