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Non-profit explains controversial supportive housing plan in Vancouver

East First Avenue building will include 26 units

Salsbury Community Society doesnt want low-income residents of a housing project slated for East First Avenue and Victoria Drive to be mere clients in need of help.

Johanna Suttor-Doerksen, community housing director for the non-profit society and registered charity, said the model of a service provider with knowledge, skills and expertise and a client in need can create barriers.

Its not just about changing and improving the recipient, but realizing that we ourselves also need to be changed, and that often we live quite isolated lives in a way of just being with people in our economic bracket and people that are similar to us, but that we really grow in both our compassion and, more importantly, our solidarity with people if we allow ourselves to be open to having friendships with people that come from a different background, Suttor-Doerksen said.

The four-storey building unanimously approved in a rezoning by city council April 18 will include a total of 26 apartments. Eighteen to 20 units will be for low-income tenants from the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood who dont need high levels of support and six to eight units will be for community members who want to live alongside those in need of support. (Vision Vancouver Coun. Heather Deal was absent for the vote).

Those who are part of what the society calls the intentional community of support will pay below market rents.

Each floor of the building will be arranged in pods that include four or five apartments that will open to a common space with seating, laundry facilities and access to a balcony. Pods could be designated women-only.

The society that grew out of the nearby Grandview Cavalry Baptist Church will select low-income tenants that could include individuals, couples or families, the working poor, elderly people and others struggling with homelessness, and they can be of any ethnic background, culture, sexual orientation or faith.

Tenants who provide support need to be from Grandview-Woodland, committed to economic and material simplicity, relationship-building and collective decision-making and a local Christian faith community.

The development that drew opposition from neighbours primarily for its height and size includes a large kitchen, dining area and community garden.

In our community houses, we just found that sitting around the table and eating with one another has just been the starting point and sustaining bond for people to build relationships with one another as well as gardening has, Suttor-Doerksen said. Its just a very natural way of doing something together even if you are from a very different economic or cultural background. Its something that you can connect over.

Salsbury operates three homes that provide long-term housing to those in need and two houses that lodge refugees. Members of the churchs congregation have invited one or two single people to share their homes and have bought houses together.

Council reduced the permitted building height from 50 to 45 feet and the structure needs to fit with the character of the neighbourhood. A community advisory committee for the project must continue.

City staff had recommended that the rezoning be approved with conditions.

Its a unique proposal. We all know theres a dearth of supportive housing in the city and a challenge to house people that are at risk of homelessness or are homeless, for a non-profit society to come forward doesnt happen every day, Kent Munro, assistant director of planning, said last week.

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Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi