News / Vancouver

Tent city site to become 100% social housing building — maybe

Vancouver’s mayor announced a partnership to build 250-unit building, but is also looking for help from the province and federal government

A tent city at 58 West Hastings, a vacant lot and community garden, where residents are protesting for affordable housing. The city is proposing to build 250 units of social housing at the site, but needs funding from the province and federal government.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

A tent city at 58 West Hastings, a vacant lot and community garden, where residents are protesting for affordable housing. The city is proposing to build 250 units of social housing at the site, but needs funding from the province and federal government.

The City of Vancouver and a charitable foundation unveiled a plan to provide 250 units of housing and a 55,000 square foot health centre on the site of a three-month-old tent city occupation in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The project will involve a significant fundraising effort: the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation is committing to raise $30 million of the entire $60-$75 million cost to build.

“We have a pretty dire situation on our streets here in Vancouver, it’s well-known,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “We found 539 people living on our streets last March. We know there are as many or more out there tonight.”

Robertson met with activists and community members in August, where he signed a pledge to work to turn the site into 100 per cent social housing. The tent city site has deteriorated since then, he said. The vacant lot was previously the site of a similar tent protest in 2010 during the Olympics, when occupiers made similar demands.

Metro observed between 40 and 50 tents on the site during a visit on Thursday afternoon, where several residents described how the crowded conditions are leading to conflicts. John, who said he didn’t live in the camp full-time, said he had been evicted from an SRO several months ago after failing to follow rules about visitors and open drug use.

The city is partnering with the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation and Vancouver Coastal Health on the project, and will have to get further funding commitments from the province and federal governments if all of the units are to be rented at welfare and pension rates. The province has yet to receive a proposal from the City of Vancouver, according to communications staff.

Without that additional funding, just 50 per cent of the housing units will be affordable to people on welfare.

The City of Vancouver’s contribution is the land, valued at $20 million, which it will lease to the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation. Vancouver Coastal Health does not yet know how much money it will be contributing to the project or where those funds would come from, said spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson.

The site will go before council for rezoning in June 2017.

The city is also asking the province to raise the welfare shelter rate from the current $375 — unchanged since 2007 — to $600.

“We consider Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside to be one community. What happens in the Downtown Eastside affects Chinatown and vice versa,” said Carol Lee, founder of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation. “It is kind of a bold move, but we thought it was important to show that helping the Downtown Eastside is actually helping Chinatown.”

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