News / Vancouver

City planners to review separate entrances for social housing units

Concerns have been raised about the idea of building separate entrances for those who live in social housing and creating "segregated children's playgrounds."

Quentin Wright, executive director of the Mole Hill Housing Society said the optics of separating market housing residents from social housing residents in the same building — even separating playgrounds — are terrible.

Jennifer Gauthier / For Metro

Quentin Wright, executive director of the Mole Hill Housing Society said the optics of separating market housing residents from social housing residents in the same building — even separating playgrounds — are terrible.

As Vancouver moves forward on a new housing plan that includes increasing the amount of lower-income units added to condo buildings, the city’s chief planner says his department will be taking a second look at the practice of building separate entrances for each portion of the building.

“In general, sometimes it works well to have separate buildings, in other cases it doesn’t, and we’re going to be looking at these kinds of design rules to make sure this is housing for everyone at all levels of income,” said Gil Kelley.

On Nov. 23, Metro reported on a proposed condo building at the corner of Thurlow and Burnaby St. in Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood. The building, which is being developed by The Strand and Intracorp, would have 82 market condo units and 39 social housing units.

The two components would have separate entrances, a design that’s become common in several Vancouver developments but has often attracted criticism. In addition, the Thurlow and Burnaby project would have separate playground areas that are not accessible to either side. That concerned Judy Graves, the city’s now-retired advocate for the homeless.

“The concept of segregated children’s playgrounds disturbs me greatly,” she told Metro.

Judy Graves, the city's former advocate for the homeless, spoke to Metro about her concerns about a project planned at Thurlow and Burnaby St. that would have separate playgrounds for the condo and social housing components.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Judy Graves, the city's former advocate for the homeless, spoke to Metro about her concerns about a project planned at Thurlow and Burnaby St. that would have separate playgrounds for the condo and social housing components.

Developers often get permission to build extra density when they agree to build a social housing component, which is then turned over to the city’s ownership. Under that model, the market condos fall under B.C.’s Strata Act while the social housing falls under the Rental Tenancy Act.

In many ways it’s easier to keep not only the entrances, but the heating and mechanical systems and day-to-day maintenance all separate, said Quentin Wright, executive director of the Mole Hill Housing Society. But, he said, the optics are terrible in a city where so many are suffering the effects of the housing crisis.

“The (city) could go and look at which things are causing these buildings to be designed that way and they could change that,” Wright said. He added it’s much easier to integrate market and non-market units when the entire building is rental.

There are many examples of buildings and neighbourhoods in Vancouver where people of various incomes are all living together, said Michael Geller, an architect and developer.

But: “Even when there are separate entrances and separate buildings, there are concerns on the part of developers that the proximity of social housing will impact sales,” Geller said, adding it’s also a concern for the banks who are financing the projects. Pre-sales for new West End developments have reached into the millions even for one-bedrooms and are marketed as “luxury.”

Geller acknowledged that condo buyers’ fears of living near social housing may be totally unfounded, but the risk is that developers will stop building.

Wright said he’s concerned about the renters currently being displaced by the development spurred by the relatively new West End plan.

For instance, in the old rental buildings now being replaced by a tower at Davie and Jervis, many long-time tenants were paying just $300 or $400 a month.

Wright said the new “social housing” being included in some of these buildings offers relatively light rental subsidies, meaning those tenants may not even be able to afford that housing.

“They’ve all been renovicted, they’re out of our neighbourhood, and they’d never even be able to afford the (new) social housing,” Wright said.

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