It’s been a year and a half since housing advocates erected a tent city on a vacant plot of land on Hastings Street to demand more affordable housing in the city.
Activists eventually forced a meeting with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who pledged to transform the site at 58 West Hastings Street to make it 100 per cent social housing.
Later that fall, the city won an injunction to clear the encampment over bylaw violations, sanitation and other serious health concerns.
Next Tuesday, Vancouver city council will finally hold a public hearing on a housing project to be constructed at the site.
The city is proposing 231 units of social housing in a 10-storey tower with commercial and medical offices on the first to third floors.
However, while all units must conform to the city’s definition of “social housing,” just one-third of those units will be guaranteed to be held at welfare rates.
That’s a far cry from the lofty expectations Robertson set in the summer of 2016, when he suggested every unit could be held at the shelter rate.
“That building could be as many as 300 homes in it,” Robertson said at the time.
“We’re going to be putting pressure on the B.C. and federal government to commit to making sure that all of those rooms can be at shelter welfare rates.”
Aiyanas Ormond with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users says the group wants to see the entire building be social housing at welfare and pension rates.
“The rest would be covered under the city’s affordable housing definition, which honestly can mean 1-bedrooms at $1000 or $1200, or even $1400 dollars. That’s what we’ve seen at Olympic Village and some of these other developments. That’s way out of the price range of the people who are homeless and who are struggling to survive in our community.”
The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) has estimated the cost of turning 58 West Hastings into 100 per cent welfare and pension-rate housing at approximately $75 million.
The Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, which will operate the housing in the new facility, is expected to invest $30 million.
Vancouver Coastal Health will be the partner agency in charge of on-site healthcare facilities.
A spokesperson for the city said they couldn’t comment on the project until after the public hearing, but added it’s too early to say when the project could break ground, if it’s approved.
-With files from Kyle Benning, Emily Lazatin, and Michelle Morton