Communities across British Columbia are considering temporary modular housing projects for homeless and low-income tenants, but some are taking a cautious approach after a similar proposal in Vancouver fuelled protests and legal challenges.
B.C.’s NDP government is planning to create 2,000 supporting housing spaces across the province by setting up modular units that can be assembled quickly to address local homelessness and moved if those needs change.
One of the first such projects was a 78-unit complex in the south end of Vancouver, which was approved last year over the objection of local residents, who complained they had not been properly consulted. The project is being constructed on an empty lot that is awaiting development.
Now, other cities are considering their own proposals. The projects are in development in 12 communities, with others in the planning stages.
The City of Richmond has proposed to build a 40-unit modular housing project on a city-owned site – a plan that quickly prompted strong opposition from nearby residents.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie stressed that no decision has been made and that the city will take public opinions into consideration, with a final decision expected in about a month.
Still, Mr. Brodie said the proposed location is ideal.
“This site has no schools in the immediate neighborhood; it is on public transportation routes; it is near the hospital. … It is near the all these services that we have in our city centre.”
A loosely organized group that has emerged opposing the project said its members have sent or encouraged others to send thousands of letters to the city and city councillors.
“We want to use this way to tell [the council] that here are the voices that are against the plan,” said David Shao, one of the group’s organizers. Mr. Shao said building temporary housing cannot solve the root issue of homelessness, and he said the type of tenants who would be housed at the site pose safety concerns for the neighbourhood.
Of the 40 units, eight would be intended for “service level 3” tenants, a group that includes people with traits such as extensive criminal history and high risk to reoffend, aggressive and intimidating behaviour, frequent conflict with others, poor communication skills and history of property damage.
Councillor Bill McNulty is also skeptical about the proposal. He said the city should instead come up with a plan to provide permanent housing for city’s homeless population at an appropriate place.
According to the data released by BC Non-Profit Housing Association, Richmond had 70 homeless people in 2017.
Hajira Hussain, executive director of Richmond Food Bank, said the location of the proposed modular housing is close to the food bank. Ms. Hussain said her group has been in the neighbourhood for more than 10 years and hasn’t encountered any safety issues.
“Homelessness is an urgent issue and we need to get this project off the debating table and on the ground (as soon as possible),” Ms. Hussain said.
While other communities consider similar projects, the city of Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, has withdrawn its own proposal, citing the makeup of the tenants.
The city’s mayor, Bill McKay, said council was first told the proposed modular housing project would be for “second-step clients” who have been in low-barrier supportive housing before and are ready to reintegrate into the community. However, he said council was later told the housing would be for a mixture of all clients
“We withdrew that site because council didn’t believe that the client mix for the type of housing was appropriate at that location.”
Mr. McKay said the city still wants this type of housing and has several potential sites available.
Mr. McKay also said the council was given a very short of time to decide on alternate sites and it needs to choose “suitable locations that everyone can agree on.”
Nanaimo was then given a deadline to identify another acceptable location, but when a site wasn’t identified, the funding from provincial government to build such housing was reallocated to another community that was ready to move ahead, a spokesperson for the province’s Housing Minister said.