City misses goal of 600 modular housing units for homeless before winter

Mike Howell - Vancouver Courier


The city announced Jan. 5 that it identified a city-owned parking lot adjacent to the Olympic Village Canada Line station as another site for a modular housing complex for homeless people. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The city’s housing staff has not reached its ambitious goal announced last July to have 600 modular housing units open for homeless people in Vancouver before the onset of winter.

Not one of the 600 units has been built in a city in which shelters and community centres have been the only refuge for homeless people as temperatures dipped and heavy rain has fallen in recent months.

The main reason city officials cite for the delay in opening the temporary housing is the provincial government not approving until September the $66 million to build the 600 units.

Protests and a court battle over the planned Marpole modular housing complex, the need to hold public hearings to change zoning regulations and finding suitable sites to accommodate the housing have been other reasons.

“If we were able to get an earlier funding agreement, then we could have moved a bit faster,” said Abi Bond, the city’s director of housing policy and projects. “But we’re moving as fast as we can because even though we haven’t been able to get these open, we know how urgent it is and how desperately people need these homes.”

Last Friday, the city announced it identified a city-owned parking lot adjacent to the Olympic Village Canada Line station as the fifth property for a modular housing complex.

Bond said a 23,000 square feet portion of the lot at the northeast corner of West 6th Avenue and Ash Street will be used for a 50-unit building. But, she added, its prospective tenants will have to wait until July to move in.

“We’re hoping to be able to initiate the full 600 within the next few months and get them occupied this year,” said Bond, noting the city expects to open the first modular housing building next month in Marpole at West 57th Avenue and Heather Street.

Much of the protest against the Marpole complex, which will consist of two buildings totalling 78 units, has centred on the site’s proximity to three schools and the safety of students.

Protesters have noted the city’s agreement with B.C. Housing calls for a minimum of 20 per cent of the 600 units to be made available to tenants identified as “service level three.”

That agreement classifies “service level three” tenants as people who don’t engage with treatment or support services, have poor housekeeping and are susceptible to hoarding and poor hygiene.

They have “an extensive criminal history indicating high risk to re-offend, can create security problems through aggressive and intimidating or intrusive behaviour [and have an] inability to sustain personal relationships.”

As well, they are prone to “frequent conflict with others, poor communication skills and history of property damage,” the agreement said.

“I can appreciate why some people were fearful when they saw that,” said Bond, noting the non-profits managing the buildings have an extensive history of working with people with various mental health and addiction challenges. “But we’re trying to reassure people that we use tenanting best practices.”

The site adjacent to the Olympic Village Canada Line station is located in a more urban setting than the Marpole property and is a short walk to the Vancouver Police Department’s Cambie Street precinct.

There are no single-family homes or schools in close proximity to the site but it is near townhouse and condo developments, including one on Moberly Road lived in by Matt Foulger and his young family.

Foulger took to Twitter to show his support for modular housing coming to his neighbourhood. In an interview with the Courier, he reiterated his support for the project.

“I supported it in Marpole and I supported it in other locations, so it would be ridiculous not to support it in my own neighbourhood — unless there’s a very specific reason why it didn’t make sense as a site,” said the 34-year-old software developer. “I’d rather go into it with a welcoming attitude. If I get burned later and look like some classic naïve liberal whatever, I’d rather be that than cynical from the start.”

So far, the five sites identified by the city will mean homes for 260 people. That leaves 340 left to find. The city expects it will need a total of 10 to 12 sites to accommodate the 600 units.

A homeless count conducted in March last year revealed 2,138 people were without a home in Vancouver, with 537 of those living on the street. Others were staying in some form of shelter.

The city is hosting a meeting Jan. 30 regarding the site adjacent to the Olympic Village Canada Line station. The meeting will be held at Beaumont Studios, 326 West Fifth Ave., from 4 to 7 p.m.

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