‘People are worth it’: City of Vancouver to study controversial ‘poor doors’

Click to play video: 'City of Vancouver looks at poor doors and shared entrances in mixed-use buildings'
City of Vancouver looks at poor doors and shared entrances in mixed-use buildings
The city of Vancouver is now seeking consultants to review the implications on designing mixed-use projects for condo and social housing residents with shared entrances and common areas, including so-called "poor doors." Kristen Robinson reports – Apr 7, 2019

Some are convinced they deepen the divide between the rich and the poor, while others claim they just make practical sense.

So-called “poor doors,” or separate entrances for social housing tenants who reside in the same mixed-use buildings as condo owners or market renters, are the subject of polarizing debate.

Now the city of Vancouver is looking to study separate versus shared common areas in mixed tenure social housing projects.

A Request for Expression of Interest (RFEOI) on the government’s BC Bid website states that the city is “seeking a consultant or consultant team to review and understand the operational, financial, legal and social implications of designing mixed-tenure projects with shared entrances, common areas, and service infrastructure for non-profit housing operators.”

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“I’m really glad the city’s finally doing this,” said Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society.

“I think this has been a long time coming and it’s an important step.”

As a non-profit housing developer, Abbott’s organization operates two mixed-income rental buildings where entrances and common areas including gyms, social space and community gardens are shared by market rental and supportive housing tenants.

“I don’t believe that the amount you pay for rent should dictate what your lobby looks like,” Abbott told Global News.

“We need to get to know our neighbours irrespective of the rent we pay or whether we own or rent our apartments. Having poor doors and separate spaces isn’t the way to do that.”

Inclusionary zoning, which sees developers deliver non-profit units within market residential developments in exchange for additional density, is one of the main delivery models for social housing in Vancouver.

WATCH: Condo developer under fire for so-called ‘poor doors’

“Traditionally, spaces have been kept separate in an effort to keep costs down for the non-profit operator, and minimize management fees or shared expenses,” states the city’s RFEOI.

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Higher costs could include premium interior finishes and amenities that may not be provided in social housing, such as concierge services.

“I think this study will hopefully dispel the myth that this is all being done for reasons of separating the rich and the poor,” said Michael Geller, an architect and planner.

At the Woodward’s W32 condos, market strata residents enter at 108 West Cordova St. while social housing tenants use a different entrance at 120 West Cordova St. Both addresses lead to separate air space parcels within the same building.

“It’s not so much having separate entrances,” Geller told Global News.

“What’s important is recognizing that there are certain costs associated with operating the condominium that I don’t think it’s fair to burden the social housing with those costs.”

“My assumption is costs are a bit more expensive but people are worth it,” said Abbott.

The Atira CEO says she chose to spend an additional $15,000 installing stainless steel appliances in all 198 units at ‘Olivia Skye,’ the society’s mixed-income building at 41 East Hastings St., because she wanted the social housing units to be the same as the low end of market homes.

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The city’s RFEOI notes the creation of shared amenity spaces can be seen as an “ideal social objective” but acknowledges that “implementation can be challenging due to financial issues such as cost sharing and maintenance around co-owned common amenity spaces and varying site constraints.”

“What we’re really looking at here are two separate buildings, separate ownership, separate management,” said Geller, who believes there are legitimate reasons for maintaining separation.

“It’s nothing to do with discrimination. It’s nothing to do with suggesting one group is better than the other.”

The RFEOI closes Apr. 23.

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