Work on 58 West Hastings could start this fall. Just half of units will be at welfare rate

Former Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson meeting with housing activists about 58 W. Hastings in 2016. Simon Little / Global News

Vancouver’s mayor says he hasn’t forgotten about a major promise his predecessor made regarding social housing in the city. But following through may prove impossible.

Back in 2016, former mayor Gregor Robertson pledged to deliver social housing at 100 per cent welfare or pension rates in a new development at 58 West Hastings.

The site — still an empty lot — had been the location of a long-running homeless camp.

Current mayor Kennedy Stewart said Wednesday that he’s been in talks with the federal government over the project since January.

“[It’s] still under negotiation, very close,” said Stewart.
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“I felt very heartened by the conversations I had federally, so I’ll just keep pushing and [I’m] hopeful I’ll have a good announcements,” said Stewart Wednesday.

WATCH: Gregor Robertson pledges welfare housing in DTES

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Gregor Robertson pledges welfare housing in DTES

The city says pending final funding commitments, it hopes to start construction this fall.

The city is proposing 231 units of housing in a 10-storey tower with commercial and medical offices on the first to third floors.

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The Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, which will operate the housing in the new facility, is expected to invest $30 million, and the province has also committed $30 million to the $109 million project.

The city has put up land worth $38 million and has applied for a $30 million Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) grant.

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However, it appears unlikely that activists will be able to get the city to follow through on Robertson’s promise.

Last November, city manager Sadhu Johnston said the city still had a ways to go to secure enough funding for a goal of half of the proposed units to be offered at shelter rates.

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In an email, the city said that staff had looked at a variety of scenarios to try and reach 100 per cent shelter rate homes in the building, but that it couldn’t afford to do it alone.

It added that project partners said they would be unlikely to proceed if more than half the homes were rented at shelter rate as “it would not be financially viable.”

When the previous city council approved rezoning of the site in January, 2018, it committed to a minimum least one-third of the properties being offered at welfare or pension rates.

Council voted last November to have staff work to ensure as many units as possible rent at welfare or pension rates.

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