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Biltmore set to open as housing for the homeless

95 sparse rooms to provide temporary housing

A metal-framed bed, a narrow bedside table, wooden chair and small fridge furnish one of the small rooms in the former Biltmore Hotel, which is almost ready to open as housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

The interior of the Biltmore, located at 395 Kingsway, was revealed during a media tour Feb. 11.

B.C. Housing inked a six-year lease for 95 rooms in the building, with an option to renew the lease for up to nine additional years. The ground-floor commercial space, which includes the Biltmore Cabaret, is not part of the lease.

RainCity Housing is operating the facility.

The 150-square-foot rooms include a private bathroom and are meant to provide temporary housing to residents while more permanent housing is being constructed.

About 80 Mount Pleasant residents showed up at a community meeting about the plans for the building in early January. Safety and security ranked among their top concerns — many were open to the new use for the Biltmore but were worried about potential problems and how those problems will be dealt with. They also questioned why the city didn’t hold the community meeting months earlier.

RainCity Housing staff leading Tuesday’s media tour said the Vancouver Police Department conducted a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Audit to ensure proper lighting, cameras and other security measures were in properly in place.

“We built in what we learned from other [housing] projects,” added George Simpson, RainCity’s property and operations manager.

Tenants were expected start moving in at the end of January or early February, but the building hasn’t received all of its proper permits yet. They’re expected to start moving in soon.

Two of the five floors will be dedicated to women. Residents are being selected through a “rigourous” interview process, and will move in slowly so staff gets to know them and their needs, according to Amelia Ridgway, RainCity’s acting associate director.

Ridgway said the building will have a harm-reduction focus, but not all tenants will be living with addictions. When asked if she was concerned about tenants’ proximity to alcohol in bars located in the main floor of the building, Ridgway said they’re not trying to make tenants live in a bubble.

“Even though there is a cabaret and bar below, there could be anywhere [they lived] in Vancouver,” she said.

RainCity’s communications manager Bill Briscall noted a Committee Advisory Committee met for the first time two weeks ago. It was formed to deal with any concerns that might arise and discuss and address scenarios that might arise. Half of the 14-member group is comprised of homeowners, business owners and renters in the neighbourhood, while the other half has representatives from the city, B.C. Housing, the police department, RainCity and Vancouver Coastal Health. RainCity hopes to have a Biltmore resident on the committee. Meeting minutes will be posted on the agency’s website.

The building will be staffed on a 24-hour basis — four staff during the day, three during the evening and three overnight, in addition to a full-time manager and full-time assistant manager.

A camera is installed outside the front entrance and residents and guests will be buzzed in. Guests will have to show identification at the front desk and sign in before being buzzed through a second door to the elevator. No minors will be allowed in the building — entrance is limited to those over 19 years of age.

Residents will get one dinner-style frozen meal a day, prepared offsite by Savoury Chef Foods. Savoury Chef will drop the meals off once a day and residents will pick up at the front desk and re-heat them in microwaves provided in the multi-purpose room on the seventh floor.

The seventh floor also has an office for staff and another small room that will be used as a dedicated health clinic. Staff from Vancouver Coastal Health’s Raven Song community health centre will operate out of the room one or two days a week and will also be available on other occasions when needed. They will provide general health, mental health and addictions care.

A laundry room is located in the basement, but access is limited to staff who will do laundry for tenants. A dedicated home support worker in the building will help clean rooms. Rooms will be inspected monthly for damage and pests.

Residents will pay $375 per month.

B.C. Housing is providing $1.7 million in annual operating costs and has provided $535,000 to make the building more safe and secure. The City of Vancouver contributed $1.1 million towards renovation work.