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A row of SRO (single-room occupancy) hotels seen here December 14, 2007 on East Hastings Street in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
A row of SRO (single-room occupancy) hotels seen here December 14, 2007 on East Hastings Street in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver's SROs to get a $116-m makeover Add to ...

The federal and B.C. governments have unveiled a plan to renovate 13 single room occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The hotels are already owned by the province and are home to about 900 residents. Many of the buildings are more than 100 years old and have structural, plumbing and electrical infrastructure that requires renewal.

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The federal government has vowed to contribute up to $29.1-million to the public-private partnership through the P3 Canada Fund. The provincial government has pledged $87.3-million.

A request for proposals has been issued, through which a private-sector proponent will be picked to design, build, finance, and maintain the project.

“The SRO renewal will improve living conditions for the residents and restore the heritage value of these century old buildings,” Rich Coleman, B.C.’s minister responsible for housing, said during a news conference Friday.

The Carnegie Community Action Project – a group that works on housing, income and land-use issues in the Downtown Eastside – said it’s not enough for government to simply renovate existing hotels – it must also build new social housing.

Mr. Coleman said the province is working on that.

“We have the most aggressive construction plan for this type of housing, for supportive housing, in Canadian history taking place in the province right now,” he said. “Most people don’t realize that because we don’t bang the drum loud enough.”

Mr. Coleman said there are 14 sites and about 2,000 units that are either under construction or in the process of being constructed in Vancouver. He said new housing is also being built in Victoria and Abbotsford.

Mr. Coleman said the 900 residents of the 13 hotels about to be renovated won’t be tossed onto the street.

“If the renovation is significant, we’ll move them close by, into other housing, and then transition them back to the building when the building’s finished or the floor is finished,” he said. “That’s what we do. We don’t put them out.”

Mr. Coleman was joined at the news conference – eventually – by Vancouver South MP Wai Young. Ms. Young was about 20 minutes late to the event because her flight into Vancouver was delayed.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson did not attend the event, but wrote in a statement that the city is pleased to see the province and federal government come together to improve living conditions for marginalized and vulnerable citizens.

“The renewal and renovation of these 13 SROs is another important step toward our goal of ending street homelessness by 2015 and ensuring safe, stable housing for low-income residents, particularly in the Downtown Eastside,” he wrote.

The buildings set for renovation are: Beacon Hotel, Dominion Hotel, Gastown Hotel, Hazelwood Hotel, Marble Arch Hotel, Marr Hotel, Sunrise Hotel, Washington Hotel, Cordova Residence, Orange Hall, Tamura House, The Rice Block, and the Roosevelt/Molson’s Bank Building.

In addition to the structural, plumbing and electrical renovations, the buildings will be restored to preserve their heritage features.

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