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resettlement

The caretaker suites were originally made for older, retired men to keep an eye on city parks.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Three vacant houses built on Vancouver park property for caretakers could be made available to Syrian refugee families.

Park Board commissioner Catherine Evans said she wants to propose to council later this month that three caretaker suites be repurposed as the city tries to ensure the new arrivals have somewhere affordable to live in a city with astronomical rents.

"Housing is the most critical thing," Ms. Evans said. "It's very difficult to find something affordable."

More than 70 Vancouver field houses were built in the 1940s and 1950s, and most still exist. According to Ally Woodgate, a live-in field-house caretaker in Shaughnessy, the suites were designed for older, retired men to keep an eye on the city's parks.

With a reported 3,000 Syrian refugees scheduled to settle in the Vancouver area by the end of the year, accommodation will be a major challenge.

Ms. Evans said she hopes the park board will accept the motion to turn three field houses into refugee housing at the next meeting on Dec. 14.

"I have learned that there are three that might work," Ms. Evans said. "I don't know if they are suitable for families or just a couple, perhaps."

Ms. Woodgate lives in a field house in Quilchena Park on Vancouver's west side. She has been a field-house caretaker for 20 years, and said that when the houses become vacant, the city typically leaves them empty.

"There are always rumours that when a field-house keeper does move out, they usually don't refill it unless it's a busy park," Ms. Woodgate said. "They leave it vacant."

Ms. Woodgate said she would like to see all vacant field houses renovated and filled with caretakers. To her, it sounds like a win-win situation to house refugees in the vacant field houses, provided they take over the caretaker role.

"If [the city] wants to put refugees in the field houses, that's great," Ms. Woodgate said. "Just keep the field house open. Give the refugees the job. It's a sense of responsibility and duty, and it's a place to live."

Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs said it sounds like an excellent idea if the field houses are in good shape.

"If they are suitable and in good condition, it could work. I don't think we're just throwing a roof over someone's head. It would need to be a step above shelter in my view," Mr. Meggs said. "So in theory, it sounds terrific, but I think they'd have to look at it case by case."

Some field houses have been transformed into art studios, so Mr. Meggs and Ms. Evans said there is precedent.

"I know that some of them have been repurposed for art studios and some are being used for community garden groups … but not all of them," Ms. Evans said. "Which is why I knew I could put this forward as a suggestion. …

"It would be an extraordinary step for the park board to take, but I think everybody is looking to do what they can do to help."

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