In a new approach to tackle Vancouver's ongoing problems with low-cost housing and homelessness, the city has bought the Ramada Hotel on Kingsway – far from the downtown core.
Councillor Kerry Jang, who confirmed to The Globe and Mail the as-yet-unannounced purchase of the 122-room hotel, said the building is going to be used as housing for seniors who need to be moved from other residences in the city that require renovation.
He said the city hasn't completed overall planning for the hotel, but noted Vancouver has a policy of acquiring sites that can be used as locations for future social housing.
"The long-term plan is yet to be decided," he said. "One of the things we are preparing for is when the next provincial government gets elected, where are the new sites that can be used to build the next round of social housing."
The province is currently halfway through building 14 major social-housing projects on land supplied by the city. But there has been nothing announced in the past few years about what new social housing might be developed after those projects are completed.
Mr. Jang declined to say what price the city paid for the hotel.
A local realtor confirmed that the property just showed up on realtor databases as a sale Oct. 30 for $15.5-million.
There has been considerable chatter about the sale and the city's possible plans in the community around the hotel, the Renfrew-Collingwood area that is close to the Joyce SkyTrain station in Vancouver's southeast sector.
A meeting with the city has been organized for Nov. 27 with the Collingwood Neighbourhood House homeless committee, so that people can hear more.
Jennifer Gray-Grant, executive director of the committee, said the community so far doesn't know a lot about the plans.
"What little I've heard back from the community about this has been positive so far," Ms. Gray-Grant said. People have talked about possibly making welcome kits for those moving into the building.
She said the need for affordable housing in the neighbourhood has been a priority for a long time.
That's something that Mr. Jang echoed, specifying that the local community had stressed that it needs more senior housing.
"What we're looking at is housing for seniors or for families."
Both the city and BC Housing have been trying to figure out recently how to house people from buildings that need to be renovated. BC Housing is about to start fixing up several hotels in the Downtown Eastside that it purchased years ago.
Mr. Jang said that, contrary to some local rumours about the Ramada, it will not be used for anyone from those particular BC Housing-owned hotels as a temporary home while the hotels are being worked on.
He said the seniors who will be moved into the Ramada are likely going to need to be there for two years, which is why the city decided to buy the building outright, rather than just leasing something.
But this doesn't mean Vancouver is on a program to start buying hotels for affordable housing, he said. It will only acquire sites when the time, price and location seem right, he said.
Vancouver did adopt a Homeless Action Plan in 2005 under then-mayor Larry Campbell that specified the city should try to buy one residential hotel every year, in order to preserve low-cost housing stock in the Downtown Eastside and Granville South.
But it only bought one hotel under that plan, the Granville Residence. That plan has since been replaced by a different one under Mayor Gregor Robertson, which didn't include those kind of specifics on buying hotels.
Starting in 2007, the province began buying residential hotels in the Downtown Eastside to prevent them from being acquired for development.
This is the first time either level of government has bought a hotel outside the core downtown area for low-cost housing.