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Province buys housing units for the homeless all over B.C.

January 30th, 2009 · 8 Comments

Another fun morning in another unheated brick building being renovated, with the housing crowd in the province as everyone gathered at the St. Helen’s hotel on Granville Street. That was to hear the premier and Housing Minister Rich Coleman announced they had bought 601 new units around the province in 15 buildings, all as part of the province’s ongoing homelessness initiative.

(By the way, this is the third year in a row they’ve made an announcement like this, as we count down to the Olympics. Brings the total number of units they’ve bought now to something like 2,000.)

Of those, six are Downtown Eastside hotels, including what I gather is the infamous Backpackers, between the North Star and Army & Navy.

What was interesting was how many places the province bought outside Vancouver: a motel in Penticton, another motel in Williams Lake, a mobile-home park in Nanaimo, a hotel in Prince George, a former youth-corrections facility in Logan Lake (near Kamloops), a former seniors’ centre in Mission. It’s a sign of how widespread the province’s homelessness problem is. It’s also a positive move for everyone, so that people wil maybe someday, someday stop saying that all the problems move to the Downtown Eastside because that’s where the services are.

Total bill, by the way, was $34 million, at an average cost of about $130,000 per unit.

Other random pieces of information I picked up during my morning visit:

– Yes, for everyone who has a hard time believing the 12 new social housing sites are going to be built, the tenders are going to go out soon for construction. The Portland Hotel Society’s Main Street site is in line to be the first project to start construction.

– No, no one knows yet how the federal infrastructure dollars might be used for any of this. There’s a bit of a tussle going on because the feds have said there’s money available for reno’ing old housing if provinces match the funds. But here in B.C., the province is saying, If we’re going to match funds, we should get a choice in where that money goes, not just only to projects within your narrow definitions of what’s suitable.

– Housing Minister Rich Coleman told me after the announcement that two of the sites — the one in Logan Lake and the one in Mission — are going to get some intensive extra support services, akin to what they’re doing at the Burnaby centre that I’ve been writing about the last week. So that will give some out-of-town options to those difficult cases, people who have everything working against them.

I still can’t get over the turnaround in this province since the Liberals cancelled hundreds of social-housing units planned for construction when they first came to power in 2001.

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  • CB

    Buying decrepit SRO’s, even if the government fixes them up to meet health and fire codes, does not add a single new housing unit to the mix. It is inaccurate to call this ‘social housing’. It’s not. This is transitional housing, at best.

    Q: Where are the integrated support services — the addiction, mental health, psychological and health treatment regimes that will begin the process of re-integrating these people back into society, or re-institutionalization if needed?
    A: Nowhere,

    Q: Where do the residents go after they check into the SROs? Where is the social housing for them, so that they can eventually move out of their 200 sq. ft. squalid rooms on the downtown eastside, into real homes?
    A: Nowhere.

    This government has spent $90 million on gold-plated ski jump and luge facilities at Whistler for the Olympics — a facility that will be only used by a few dozen elite athletes. Compare this with $90 million spent to bail out slum hotel landlords at the height of the real estate boom ,while not adding a single new housing unit into the mix.

    Can you say “boondoggle”?

  • Denis

    Election coming up so the sky is the limit. A number of Manufactured Home Parks have issued eviction notices and the owners want to develop them. The previous government had regulations that included up to 10,000 per unit for moving which was there to discourage the land owner from removing the folks, many who had been in the places for years. In comes Gordo, out goes the $10,000 per unit. A lot of the older trailers, modular homes and manufactured homes can’t be moved. A large majority of the home owners are elderly, on fixed incomes. The folks put their money in so as not to be a burden on anyone. I spent a number of years in the Manufactured Home Associations. Our home was not small at 36 feet wide and 56 feet long. They really arn’t made to move more than once. We spent a lot of time working with the previous government trying to protect the folks. All gone. So now one small development will be sold as fee simple lots according to Coleman. But what about all the other parks? Almost forgot, there was a reguation about maximum pad rent increases but I guess that’s gone as well. BC The greatest place on Earth, if you are into making money

  • As someone who works in a well-kept and newly renovated Downtown Eastside hotel, contrary to CB’s comment the 200 sq. ft. rooms are far from squalid, and the buildings (once renovations are complete) are far from decrepit. Residents are provided with a weekly room cleaning service, as well as a laundry service (there’s also a laundry room on site). There’s 24-hour-a-day Internet service, and a large kitchen that’s also open 24 hours a day where residents can prepare their own meals; main meals are prepared by staff (and residents). Residents are plugged into the Strathcona Mental Health Unit, the Portland Dental Health Clinic and all of the other social services on offer in the DTES, the staff are educated, caring professionals, and the clients / residents are well cared for in a supportive environment, where they’re off the street and secure within a warm and safe hotel.

    When residents are offered the opportunity to move into more conventional apartment-style BC Housing, more often than not they choose to return to the hotel: for the camaraderie of their fellow residents, and for the daily supportive contact with staff and management.

    Readers can track the progress of renovations of the new SROs at

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  • Dawn Steele

    This is very good news!

    As we’ve seen with our new & improved Tory govt in Ottawa, forcing them to reform may be just as useful in the end as defeating/replacing them!

    Frances aptly points out the stark contrast to the BC Liberals’ opening act of cancelling 1,000 social housing units – and I think all you folks who have been out there banging this drum need to take full credit for doing a helluva job educating Campbell, Coleman and co.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Thank you Dawn…but they have reverted rather swiftly to having tin ears.

    CB is so wonderfully right on the money, I just about leapt out of my chair in joy (a spilled a perfectly mixed libation…)

    Without any accompanying infrastructure to deal with addiction treatment (a comprehensive series of clinics with residency beds and detox accommodation) and mental health assistance (reopen Riverview and fund it fully now!) then all this rings rather hollow.

    Just wait for it…after two years (when the original promise was to fix it in five months) they will deal with the 70+ IQ disgrace, just as another election goodie. Otherwise, windbag Coleman and many of the others don’t care about you or me. Get it straight. Please.

  • Dawn Steele

    Absolutely with you there, Alex, that this is a step, not the whole solution – as per my extended comments re mental health services, etc in the earlier thread.

    This is aptly illustrated in a not-unusual example from our “virtual rally” for community living this weekend:

    Govt claims it can’t affort $500 – $1,500 a month to fund basic supports like respite and/or treatment to support a family caring at home for a very high-needs child with autism or another developmental disability. The family ends up having to give up the child into government care and they then taxpayers have to pay $150,000 or even over $200,000 a year in some cases for a contract for round-the-clock care for that child.

    It makes no sense at any level, but it continues to happen and we still have a VERY long way to go before current policies start making sense on any level!

  • Dave

    Does anyone doubt that the BC Liberal government was not aware of this social housing proposal that was presented during an In-Camera Vancouver City Council meeting:

    Building: Pantages Theatre

    Address: 150 East Hastings Street

    Owner: Worthington Properties

    Status: Worthington Properties is proposing to restore the historic vaudeville theatre and build 136 units of affordable social housing at 138, 134 and 130 East Hastings.

    Worthington Properties, by the way, are the same guys who borrowed $10 million at 42% interest rate to bankroll their dreams of being the owners of the MacKenzie Pulp Mill, without a wood fibre source included and left the plant’s chlorine pulp bleaching machinery without heat.

    Cost to BC Taxpayers: $50 million