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B.C. Supreme Court orders end to Vancouver modular-housing protest

Rosa Liu, left, along with a group of concerned residents and parents protest against temporary modular housing in the Marpole neighbourhood of Vancouver on Nov. 28, 2017.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The City of Vancouver has won a court injunction to prevent protesters from blocking construction of a temporary modular housing project that has prompted concerns from neighbouring residents about the impact of bringing homeless people into their community.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge issued a ruling ordering protesters to stop blocking the site in the south Vancouver neighbourhood of Marpole, where the city is planning a 78-unit development.

"We respect people's rights to protest, but blocking the construction of much-needed housing for the homeless is not something the City can accept," Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a news release.

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The protests have been blocking the site and have already affected construction, the city said, warning that tenants may not be able to move in before the end of winter. The injunction says no one may loiter on the streets or sidewalks adjacent to the site or obstruct and prevent access to the site in any way.

The Marpole modular housing project is the first in a series of developments that the city says will create 600 units of temporary housing aimed at getting homeless people into safe and affordable housing. Residents in Marpole have objected to the potential impact of the project, which is located across from an elementary school and a small secondary school, on children, while the city maintains the housing is needed to address a "crisis."

In particular, opponents have cited the mix of tenants expected for the site. The modular housing is proposed to include a percentage of tenants who are described as "service level 3," a group that, according to a city document, 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.

Mr. Robertson said the city is listening to residents' concerns.

"We've made the decision to proceed with this project very carefully," Mr. Robertson said in the news release. "We have dozens of social and supportive housing projects throughout Vancouver that are successful and I'm confident that this project will be, too."

Luo Bingshin of Caring Citizens of Vancouver Society, a coalition representing some Marpole residents but not all protesters on the site, said in an e-mail that the group wants the mayor to sit down and consult with them to find a quick and reasonable solution.

"We are disappointed that Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver are using bullying tactics such as an injunction on a peaceful protest that is requesting for a public hearing and consultation," the e-mail said. "This is yet another example of reckless and hasty decision making by Mayor Robertson to bypass democratic rights of Vancouverites."

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Ethel Whitty, the city's director of homelessness services, said she's glad the injunction will allow construction to move forward.

"Every day or two delay can end up with a week delay just because then you put the work off when you had someone planned to come on site and then they can't," Ms. Whitty said. "So we're pretty keen to get this housing built very quickly, get people inside, we have a lot of people on the street now and homeless in shelters."

Ms. Whitty said these temporary modular housing units have a five-year contract with the ability to extend for another five years if the land developer does not need to develop in that time. She said once the developer needs the land back, the city plans to then have permanent affordable housing available to the tenants.

"In the next year the city is participating in 1,000 units of social housing and the plan over the next 10 years is to have 12,000 units built, so the plan for those folks who are in temporary modular now is to move in to permanent housing when [those sites] close," she said.

Ms. Whitty noted there have also been demonstrations by supporters of the project, including a crowd who were at the site on Tuesday.

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