A non-profit operator is preparing to open a single-room occupancy hotel bought by the City of Vancouver to provide housing for people who identify as transgender, two-spirit or gender diverse.
The city acquired the 24-unit building, known as Ross House, in July, 2019, and issued a request for proposals (RFP) for an operator to run the building in July, 2020.
It took until this month to name an operator, Atira Women’s Resource Society. That sets the stage for tenants to move into the building, located on Alexander Street in the city’s Downtown Eastside.
Trans and and two-spirit people can face multiple barriers, including discrimination and violence, when they seek housing, says Aaron Munro, who works with Atira and will be overseeing operations at Ross House.
Mr. Munro is himself transgender, having transitioned 17 years ago, around the same time he began working in the housing sector in the Downtown Eastside.
The project does more than provide housing, he said.
“This project really does send a message, because the city and province are supporting it. And it’s a message, I think, to the entire trans community, the gender diverse community, that discrimination is not going to happen. That this is a population that needs to be cared for, and they deserve to have safe housing, and we’re going to figure that out. For me, that’s really exciting,” Mr. Munro said.
City representatives said the process of choosing an operator was delayed by the pandemic, as well as a desire to make sure the right plans were in place for the project to succeed.
That involved consulting with community groups, including Japanese-Canadian and Indigenous stakeholders, said April Sumter-Freitag, a social planner with the city.
As noted in the city’s RFP, the project is close to Powell Street, or Paueru Gai, which has been a cornerstone of the city’s Japanese culture since the late 19th century.
“This is a project that is really bringing community together in a unique way,” Ms. Sumter-Freitag said.
The city’s RFP says people who are gender diverse are overrepresented in homeless populations and experience higher rates of violence.
The city paid $3.8-million for the building, with funds raised from the city’s empty-home tax. Previously, the SRO was owned by Charles Haynes, a Vancouver resident who bought the building in 2006 after his son, Ross, died of an overdose in 2000 at the age of 19.
Mr. Haynes charged below-market rents and made extensive repairs to the building, which he named to honour his son. In an interview, he said the challenges of running the building – including a stringent regulatory environment and scrutiny from housing advocates over any rent increases – had become daunting and he put it up for sale.
He said he welcomed the city’s purchase of the building and is relieved that it will still provide low-cost housing for vulnerable people.
“I’m very happy something good has happened with it,” Mr. Haynes said.
“It was upsetting that it has been empty so long, but I have all my faith in Atira and think they are going to be able to run it effectively and help a lot of people.”
SRO rooms, many of them tiny and without private bathrooms, are considered housing of last resort for low-income people. About 7,000 people currently live in SROs, primarily in the Downtown Eastside, according to a 2020 city report.
Atira will run the project under contract with the city, with operating funding from the province.
Ross House is the first social housing project in the province to focus exclusively on housing people who are trans, two-spirit and gender diverse, and could become a model for future projects, Mr. Munro said.
“It’s an opportunity to create an intentional community where people can meet their goals and then move on with their lives.”
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