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Vancouver councillor looks to protect SRO housing around new St. Paul’s Hospital

An artist's rendering of the new St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver.
An artist's rendering of the new St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. St. Paul's Hospital

A Vancouver city councillor is looking to protect people living in low-income housing once the new St. Paul’s Hospital is up and running in the False Creek Flats.

The long-standing hospital on Burrard Street is set to be replaced by a $1.9-billion facility on Station Street by 2026, creating a major health-care and employment hub just south of Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside.

That’s where 230 units of single-room occupancy (SRO) housing exist in the Ivanhoe, Cobalt and Arno hotels, which Coun. Jean Swanson is worried could disappear with the new development.

READ MORE: St. Paul’s hospital rezoning approved, but Vancouver councillor still has concerns

“A lot of these SRO hotels are being gentrified, the low-income people are being pushed out and their rents are doubling and tripling,” she said.

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“If that happens there’s going to be no place for people who are homeless to go.”

Vancouver council rezones land for new St. Paul’s hospital
Vancouver council rezones land for new St. Paul’s hospital

Swanson is set to introduce a motion at Tuesday’s council meeting that would direct staff to explore ways to protect the existing SRO units and other low-income housing.

The motion looks to address a larger problem of SRO units becoming increasingly out-of-reach for low-income renters, and being slowly replaced by more expensive social housing.

According to the motion, owners can replace SRO housing with social housing by paying a $125,000 replacement fee per unit, subject to council approval.

READ MORE: Vancouver council votes to expropriate ‘blighted’ Downtown Eastside hotels for $1 each

Swanson says that fee should be made higher to discourage owners from trading in units she says are critically needed.

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“I’ve regularly had people coming to me saying their owner is kicking them out,” she said.

“People don’t know what their rights are, and they’re scared, so they just leave or they actually get bought out. I know one person who was given $2,000 by the owner so they could move out and be replaced by someone who would pay higher rent.”

Housing activists blast Vancouver City Hall for SRO hotel evictions
Housing activists blast Vancouver City Hall for SRO hotel evictions

Swanson’s motion also calls for a public database of SROs and low-income units that are being rented, along with rental rates.

The plan for the new St. Paul’s is due to include a hotel and rental housing, but Swanson says that still won’t be enough to address increased housing demand from low-income workers once the first phase of the hospital is built.

She adds that demand will drive owners to increase rents and kick out tenants unless council steps in.

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“Unless we can protect those SROs, the number of homeless will go up,” she said.