News / Vancouver

Video: Vancouver takes on full costs to prove modular housing for homeless model

City staff believe the speedy and cheaper construction method could help boost housing supply in Vancouver, and not just for the most needy

Horizon North, a company that specializes in modular building fabrication, was awarded a $3.5 million contract to build a three-storey apartment building at Main and Terminal

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Horizon North, a company that specializes in modular building fabrication, was awarded a $3.5 million contract to build a three-storey apartment building at Main and Terminal

The City of Vancouver plans to pay for the entire cost of building, operating and subsidizing rent in order to create a temporary, quick-to-build apartment building that city councillors and staff see as a future model to quickly house people who are at risk of homelessness.

The city, which had planned to spend $3.5 million to build the three-storey modular structure, now also plans to pay for a rent subsidy totalling $222,000 in order to bridge the gap between the income assistance shelter rate of $375 and the break-even rent rate of $850.

The city’s housing agency, not a third-party operator as was initially planned, will manage the building at a cost of $285,000 a year.

“This was a pilot,” said Mukhtar Latif, chief housing officer for the City of Vancouver. “We really wanted to move forward quickly and not just wait for government funding to come in because that would have delayed the process.

“But we’ve been having ongoing dialogue with senior levels of government so we’re hopeful they’re going to come to the table.”

Horizon North, a Calgary company that specializes in manufacturing and constructing modular housing, is currently constructing the building on a city-owned lot at Main and Terminal. Modular housing, which is constructed in pieces in a factory, then shipped to a site and put together, is normally used to build temporary work camps for oil and gas and mining in northern B.C. and Alberta.

But city staff believe the speedy and cheaper construction method could help boost housing supply in Vancouver, not just for the most needy, but eventually for students and residents who make a range of incomes. The building at Main and Terminal will be completed in just six months, and be ready for people to move in in mid-February.

Latif said Vancouver’s housing agency plans to move the current occupants of a city-owned and operated single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel on Alexander Street into the Main and Terminal building. People who were being housed temporarily in the Quality Inn will then be able to move into the SRO.

In 2014, the city moved people who had been living in a tent city at Oppenheimer Park to the vacant Quality Inn at Howe and Drake.

Coun. Kerry Jang said the modular apartment building, which will have 250-square foot suites with their own small kitchens and bathrooms, offers better housing than an SRO, where bathrooms and showers are normally shared.

Crews lower components of the three-storey apartment building into place

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Crews lower components of the three-storey apartment building into place

The city has identified 10 possible future sites for more modular buildings, but after trying to push forward four sites to public hearing, has delayed that process after residents complained they were not given enough advance notice.

Latif said his staff is also looking to partner with non-profit and faith-based organizations who may be able to provide land for future projects.

The city has earmarked $80 million in its 2017 budget for housing, the most it’s ever spent on housing. Vancouver continues to deal with a severe housing crisis, following a spike in real estate prices in 2015 and 2016, ballooning rents and a very low vacancy rate. In 2016, the city’s annual homeless count showed homelessness was at a 10-year high. 

More on Metronews.ca