Vancouver opens first modular housing project and pushes for more
The building at Main and Terminal is for low-income residents, but employers are also interested in using modular to house their workers in expensive Vancouver
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Expect to see more modular housing buildings popping up around Vancouver: the city is enamoured of this quick, but temporary, fix to housing woes.
While the first project, a three-storey building at Main and Terminal, is intended to house low-income people at the shelter rent rate of $375, the city has also been fielding queries from several large employers who have trouble finding affordable housing for their workers.
“We’re hearing from more organizations in town that are having challenges finding housing for their employees,” said Sadhu Johnston, city manager for Vancouver, at a public event to officially open a 40-unit modular building at the corner of Main St. and Terminal Ave. The buildings can be completed in just six months.
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. The city’s lease is now about to run out as the property owner prepares to develop the site, so the plan is to move
Quality Inn residents to a city-owned single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel on Alexander St., and those SRO residents to Main and Terminal.
“The idea with this project is that we’re able to take from other city-run SROs, folks that are stable and that we feel confident are capable of coming into a nicer facility,” Johnston said.
The Main and Terminal site is city-owned land that will be part of the False Creek Flats plan, to be finalized this spring. The site, which is worth $35 million, will eventually be redeveloped into housing; the modular building will be in place for at least three years.
The city’s Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) has 1,000 permanent housing units under development, and the hope is that the modular building residents will eventually be permanently housed.
While the city had initially planned to spend $3.5 million to build the modular building and $220,000 to subsidize rents, other partners have now stepped up to cover some costs. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will provide $1.5 million through its new innovation fund, Vancity will provide a grant of $100,000, while the estate of Jimmy Chow has donated $1 million. The city will spend $500,000 on capital costs and $60,000 annually to operate the building.
While the city is keen to push ahead, it’s had to slow down after residents pushed back against plans to build modular on several other sites in the Joyce-Collingwood area and Southeast Vancouver.
“What we heard from the communities was that they needed more information about who the tenants are, what the project will look like, where exactly on the site it will go,” Johnston said. The city is currently doing consultation work with residents of those neighbourhoods and staff will report back to council this spring.