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New project will house HIV/AIDS patients

Province paid $21.3 million for Howe Street site

Construction of the ninth social housing building of 14 to be erected on city-owned land was celebrated Nov. 28 in advance of World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.

The 12-storey building underway on Howe Street near Davie will provide 110 new supportive housing apartments for individuals in Vancouver with HIV/AIDS who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.

"You can have all the housing in the world but if you don't wrap supports around them to help them with their homelessness, their mental health, addictions and the other things that they're facing, you will fail, " said Rich Coleman, B.C.'s minister of housing. "That's why we're starting to beat this thing because we actually believe in the individual human being who needs the supports and our help, and we wrap those supports around them and make sure they can be successful."

BMO Financial Group presented a cheque for $1 million to the Streetohome Foundation at the press conference. Streetohome has provided $2.2 million in private money, including the donation, to the project.

The province is contributing approximately $20.3 million in construction financing, $1 million for pre-development costs and annual operating funding for support services. The city provided the land at a value of $5.9 million, reduced development cost charges valued at $315,000 and reduced development levies valued at $85,000. Two-thirds of the units will be studios, one-third will be one bedrooms and there will be three two-bedroom town homes for families. McLaren Housing Society serves low-income people of all ages, sexual orientations and backgrounds who have HIV/AIDS.

The 24-year-old society will manage and operate the building and offer residents workshops and life skills programs such as money management, recreational and social activities and food-related programming including community dinners, cooking skills and food safety. The new building will include rooftop garden plots for growing food.

"We know by having safe housing, people are going to feel better. They're going to have better mental health. They're going to have increased self-esteem. They're going to have access to things most of us probably take for granted, like access to regular medical care- a fridge that they can stock with healthy food," said Eric Kowalski, treasurer of McLaren Housing Society. "They're going to have a chance to feel that they belong and, in turn, as their health stabilizes, that they can contribute back to their community."

Crews broke ground at 1249 Howe St. in the summer. The building is anticipated to open by April 2013.

Three of the 14 new supportive housing developments on city-owned land have opened, providing 293 units for women, seniors and people with disabilities and individual residents needing supported housing.

McLaren offers housing in three downtown locations and portable subsidies that allow residents to choose or remain in their own apartments. Hundreds of people are the society's wait list for housing, Kowalski said. Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi