The city of Vancouver plans to use temporary modular apartments – basically stacked trailer-like units – to provide accommodation for the homeless in a site for social housing that has largely remained empty for almost a decade.
Mayor Gregor Robertson announced Wednesday that the city will raise a three-storey building consisting of about 50 units at the Little Mountain site, an area for social housing from the 1950s until the community of about 224 units was cleared in 2009 with promises, by the province, that the dwellings would be replaced.
Modular housing already used elsewhere in the city has been controversial in Vancouver, with some residents raising concerns about the people the projects will bring to their communities.
On Wednesday, the city announced that the Little Mountain residences, within the shadow of the venerable Queen Elizabeth Park, will be funded from the B.C. government’s $66-million budget to build temporary modular housing in Vancouver.
Six sites have been announced for the city as part of a provincewide effort to build 2,000 units in various areas of British Columbia.
David Chudnovsky, a former B.C. NDP MLA and now a member of the Community Advocates for Little Mountain, said in an interview that he supports the idea of providing even temporary housing for those who need it.
However, he said there is a larger need to build permanent housing at Little Mountain that would include options for those who cannot afford Vancouver’s real estate.
“What we have now is the biggest vacant lot in the city,” he said, describing the modular housing announced Wednesday as a helpful move, but one that does not fully address the “outrageous story” of Little Mountain.
The former BC Liberal government presided over the sale of the Little Mountain property to its current owner, the Holborn Group of Companies real estate operation. In buying the property for $300-million in 2007, the company committed to replace the former 254 social-housing units on the six-hectare site in any future development.
Holborn did not respond Wednesday to a phone and e-mail requests for comment on the issue.
In announcing the Little Mountain project, the city offered an overview of where its development of modular housing stands, declaring in a statement that 78 have been built and just over 300 units are at various stages of development.
“These sites are spread throughout the city and we want to make sure those buildings are well integrated into the neighborhoods and working with the neighborhoods, and make sure vulnerable residents, particularly those who are homeless in those neighbourhoods, can get some access to housing,” Mr. Robertson told a news conference.
In a separate statement, Mr. Robertson made a specific commitment to work with residents in the Little Mountain area to make sure the new project works for them.
The Little Mountain project will be subject to a development permit application process involving consultation with the community.
His remarks came as volunteers conducted the city’s annual homeless count, looking for those without homes to get some sense of a problem that Mr. Robertson said has escalated “out of control” across the region.
Last year’s metro homeless count, a separate process, found 2,138 homeless people in Vancouver.
City Councilor George Affleck, a member of the Non-Partisan Association party that sits in opposition to Mr. Robertson’s Vision Vancouver party, said he approves of Little Mountain as a “good location” for the modular housing.
In a statement, Mr. Affleck said he expected city services on-site at the new housing complex should make the project easy to implement. “However, the mass addition of temporary housing does not provide truly permanent long-term solutions. That’s what the city should be focused on,” he wrote.
Mr. Robertson, who came to the mayor’s office promising to end street homelessness by 2015, said the issue has been his top priority. He is not seeking re-election this fall, ending his mayoral service after a 10-year run. Mr. Robertson said he hopes his successor puts forth “maximum effort” on the issue. “We have made progress, but we can’t slow down.”