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Strathcona library development will include social housing Add to ...

After years of planning and at least one false start, Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood is in line to receive a full-service library - a six-storey building that will include up to 20 units of social housing.

The library-housing combination was announced Tuesday by the Vancouver Public Library, the city and YWCA Vancouver, which answered a last-ditch call from city officials for millions of dollars that would allow housing to be part of the project.

After trying to secure a housing partner, the VPL last year had recommended that the project go ahead as a library only. The city then decided to take some time to try to find a housing partner.

"I received a call from [city manager]Penny Ballem before Christmas to let us know that there could be an opportunity to develop housing in partnership with the library," YWCA chief executive officer Janet Austin said on Tuesday.

As it turned out, the YWCA had just finished a review that selected housing in the Downtown Eastside, where the YWCA has operated for decades, as a strategic priority. As well, the YWCA had been talking to major donors that were keen to back its efforts to build more housing for women and children.

Those talks became a springboard for negotiations between the YWCA, the VPL and the city, which had been under pressure to make housing part of a new Strathcona branch.

The neighbourhood lacks a full-service library and the VPL has wanted to fill that gap since the 1990s.

The city purchased a site on the 600-block of East Hastings to build a new library, but dropped that site last year after objections to demolishing older buildings on the site.

The VPL subsequently announced its current site, on the 700-block of East Hastings. Community groups insisted that housing should be part of the project. The Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council launched a "Call Kerry! Get Gregor!" internet campaign that included phone numbers for Councillor Kerry Jang and Mayor Gregor Robertson and urged area residents to call the city politicians and lobby for housing.

Carnegie Community Action Project volunteers collected about 1,500 signatures on a petition for housing to be part of the new library.

But by late 2010, no housing partner had emerged.

After city officials contacted the YWCA, the community organization reached out to its potential financial backers.

Tuesday's announcement featured three: the Cause We Care and Streetohome foundations, both based in Vancouver, and the Ismaili Council for B.C.

Cause We Care is putting up $1.5-million, Streetohome is contributing $1-million and the YWCA is finalizing arrangements for a "substantial" contribution from the Ismaili Council, Ms. Austin said.

After lining up between $3- and $3.5-million for the project, the YWCA now has to raise the balance of a $6.6-million tab for the residential component of the project.

The city is providing the land, and the library part of the project, to go on the first two floors, is expected to cost about $12-million.

The YWCA has done a thorough assessment and is confident it can raise the money, Ms. Austin said.

"It was very important to me and to our organization that we really do that homework - certainly before I was prepared to stand before city council and make a commitment to take it on," she said.

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