Justin McElroy, CBC News, April 28 (with quotes from BCNPHA CEO Jill Atkey)
One year ago, B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association CEO Jill Atkey suggested governments should consider buying underused hotels for low-income residents.
Her pitch has come to fruition — and then some.
“I think it’s safe to say that it’s a pretty historic investment acquisition,” said Atkey.
A CBC News analysis shows all three levels of government have spent more than $250 million in the last year purchasing properties for homeless and low-income residents in Vancouver, adding more than 750 beds to the city’s stock of low-income and supportive housing.
“It was a really good opportunity … to look at those properties coming onto the market because tourism was certainly suffering, and make those investments to get people quickly housed,” said Atkey.
The majority of the purchases were hotels, but some were condemned SROs like the Balmoral and Regent, while others were properties already leased to governments for housing but not outright owned by them.
“The answer to homelessness is housing,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who also said that while the investments so far were “not enough,” he was optimistic more purchases would be possible due to additional federal government funds.
“You’ll hear even more of this in the weeks and months ahead, and as long as I’m mayor of this city, it will be a primary focus.”
Strathcona deadline nears
The purchases happened over the course of the last year, but the majority were only finalized in the last month.
Those purchases have been part of the strategy behind a memorandum of understanding between the B.C. government, the City of Vancouver and Park Board to end the homeless encampment at Strathcona Park — the third in a series of encampments in and around the Downtown Eastside that have operated mostly continuously for 30 months.
The Park Board, which oversees Strathcona, has agreed to stop its support of the encampment because there are enough housing spaces available for all people residing in the park.
As of April 26, 45 residents had moved over the past three days, and Stewart is confident progress will continue.
“The minister is confident that by the weekend, all the offers will be taken by those living in the park,” he said.
Vancouver Coun. Jean Swanson said the purchase of so many properties was helpful, but better management would be required to ensure most people would take the government up on housing offers.
“Are the rooms livable? Do they have washrooms? Seeing people go voluntarily, without coercion, that would make me happy,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t like operators who don’t allow them to have tenant rights … I think it would be good to try the new models to make sure that there was something for everyone.”
Victoria taking similar strategy
A similar story is being played out in Victoria, where higher levels of government have purchased several properties, and several homeless encampments have been given an April 30 deadline as well.
“Everybody has or will receive an offer to move to an indoor place as a pathway to permanent housing,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.
Helps said Victoria’s situation differs somewhat from Vancouver’s because less hotels have been purchased, so the province is relying more on temporary shelters like warehouses and tiny home villages in the interim.
In addition, the city will be taking an individualized enforcement approach when it comes to injunctions as well, with phased enforcement of injunctions after the deadline.
But she was confident work toward a long-term solution was underway.
“When people who are … outside living in tents or in doorways, it’s bad for everybody. It’s bad for business, bad for members of the community, it creates tension, it exacerbates stigma,” she said.
“So, the provincial support and the federal support are … both very, very welcome and decades too late, but that’s no fault of those who are in office.”