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Will Vancouver's Unhoused Residents Lose 98 Units of Decent Housing?

Nearly 100 modular homes that offer people autonomy should be moved, not demolished.

Jean Swanson 16 Mar 2023TheTyee.ca

Jean Swanson is a former Vancouver city councillor.

What is the future of the 98 studio units of temporary modular housing at Larwill Place in downtown Vancouver? I’ve been trying to find out.

This housing is for people who have been or are at risk of being unhoused. Residents are now being moved into different social housing because the city wants to put office towers on the site. The two buildings are supposed to be empty by Aug. 1.

When I asked BC Housing what would happen to the Larwill modules, they responded by email with a statement that read, in part, “BC Housing, MPA Society and Vancouver Coastal Health have always been prepared to vacate the Larwill Place project site by the end of the lease agreement. We are still determining the best use for these specific housing modules, and further information will be made public once plans have been finalized.”   

The temporary part of temporary modular housing is the land lease, not the buildings — which are designed to last three decades

If the city found another site, the 98 units at Larwill Place could be moved there and we'd retain 98 shelter rate units for folks who are homeless. Last year 46 units of temporary modular housing were moved out of the Little Mountain site and Vancouver’s unhoused residents lost those units.

I’ve been talking to folks living in tents on Hastings Street recently. When I ask what kind of housing they’d like, almost everyone says they’d like an apartment with their own bathroom. One woman told me she had been on housing wait lists for 10 years, “jumped through every hoop,” and has lost hope of ever getting housing.

With modular housing, everyone has their own bathroom and cooking facilities.

With at least 2,000 unhoused people in the city, over 500 of whom are living on the street, what can our governments do to give this woman some hope, and more importantly, some housing?

One clear answer to this question is: don’t lose what we have. To me, this means we need to keep the 98 units at Larwill and the 500 or so other units of modular housing in the city. Fortunately, most of the current modular units are on land where their leases can be extended another five years.  But we need to plan for how to keep this housing when that time is up.

The problems are, does the city have a site or sites to move the housing to? And who will pay for the move? 

The city does own lots of land, but will it allow an unprofitable development like housing for folks who are unhoused to use it?  And who will pay for the move, which could cost several million? The city or province? 

Even if moving the units cost $50,000 per unit, that would still be more cost-effective than building new housing which costs about $300,000 to $400,000 per unit. And this is decent housing with private washrooms and kitchen facilities. And all the studies say it’s way cheaper to house people who are homeless than to maintain homelessness.

Recently the city and province together announced that they are building 90 units of temporary workcamp-style modular housing for folks in shelters to move into. This housing will not have private washrooms or kitchen facilities and will cost $6.9 million for 90 units.

A memo from city staff to city council last December says the city is anticipating 1,650 social housing units to be built by 2028.  But only 210 of these are planned to be affordable for people who are unhoused.

If we lose these modular housing units, we’ll be going backwards in getting unhoused folks off the street.

It is absolutely crucial that we stop losing decent housing and keep these modular units in Vancouver for people who are homeless.    [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Housing

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