British Columbia Premier David Eby and his new Housing Minister, Ravi Kahlon, announced two unusual temporary housing projects in Vancouver that would provide single-room dwellings for 90 people, a sign of renewed efforts to tackle the province’s persistent homelessness crisis.
Unlike the wave of temporary modular housing that went up in Vancouver between 2017 and 2020, which consisted of prefabricated units stacked into three-storey apartments, these new rooms will be in one-storey trailers.
The structures, which the province is planning to put on two sites around southeast False Creek, are intended to provide additional housing for homeless people who have been living in large encampments along Hastings Street and in Crab Park.
“This is just one step in a longer-term plan to address homelessness and help people move out of unsafe encampments,” the Premier told reporters on Wednesday, emphasizing that the trailers will be bridges to more permanent housing that his government will be building.
Mr. Kahlon said that, while many people have found a sense of community in the homeless camps, the makeshift housing is ultimately dangerous and unhealthy for those living in it.
The trailers will stay in place for three years.
The provincial government said in a statement that the two sites, one opposite Science World on Main Street, the other at 5th Avenue and Ash Street near the Olympic Village, will be ready for occupants in March, 2023. The estimated construction cost is $6.9-million, and there will be no cost associated with the city land being used for the project. No numbers were given for operating costs.
The return to trailer-like modular units as a “bridge to housing” solution was welcomed by new Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim.
“We are in the midst of one of the greatest crises in our city’s history,” Mr. Sim told reporters. “Today’s announcement from the province makes meaningful progress. This is not a permanent solution, but these projects will deliver much needed housing quickly, freeing up additional capacity in shelters around the city.”
Before Wednesday’s announcement, Vancouver had slowed down on building modular housing, which resulted in about 600 units in temporary structures between 2017 and 2020.
The previous mayor, Kennedy Stewart, was more interested in pursuing money for permanent housing from the federal and provincial governments, something BC Housing, the provincial housing agency, also favoured.
Under Mr. Stewart’s leadership, the city signed a memorandum of understanding with the B.C. government in 2021, in which the parties agreed to work together to provide people living in park encampments with better housing. The province had focused its efforts on buying existing hotels to be used as transitional housing. Only one temporary modular housing structure opened in 2021.
The city has been struggling to deal with its two main homeless camps, one on Hastings Street sidewalks and one in the waterfront Crab Park, for months. The camp on Hastings Street grew after Vancouver police stopped accompanying city garbage crews into the area to clear tents and other personal belongings.
The resulting chaos prompted concern from local businesses, housing advocates and the general public.
Mr. Eby has made tackling the affordable-housing crisis and homelessness a cornerstone of his agenda as Premier. He unveiled a comprehensive new package of housing policies in September, when he first announced his plan to run for leadership of B.C.’s New Democratic Party. He announced new legislation in November, after winning the leadership and becoming Premier.
His policy proposals include preventing condo strata councils from banning rentals in residential buildings, new taxes on flipping homes, and mechanisms to ensure that all municipalities in areas with housing shortages are working to ensure more supply gets built. He also committed to tackling the issue of encampments, and co-ordinating services in the city’s Downtown Eastside.
The Premier’s moves come as his political opposition, the BC Liberal Party under the leadership of Kevin Falcon, continues to attack him over internal problems at BC Housing. An external review done earlier in the year by Ernst & Young said the agency had been overly casual when it came to awarding and tracking contracts, and that it had not adequately maintained its records and computer systems.
This week, the Liberals released a report on exit interviews done with BC Housing staff members who left between 2020 and 2021. Much of the report is redacted, but the parts that were made public suggest 31 departing employees thought morale at the agency was low and that it didn’t have enough staff to function well.
Mr. Eby ordered the Ernst & Young review while he was serving as the province’s Housing Minister. He replaced the entire BC Housing board in July, a few months before he became Premier. He also ordered a more comprehensive forensic audit from Ernst & Young around that time.