Controversial Kitsilano social and supportive housing project heads to city council

Click to play video: 'Controversial Kitsilano housing project goes before Vancouver council'
Controversial Kitsilano housing project goes before Vancouver council
A controversial social housing tower proposed for a Kitsilano neighbourhood goes before Vancouver City Council, with nearly 200 people wanting to have their say. Emad Agahi reports – Jun 28, 2022

Vancouver city council is facing what could be its next marathon set of meetings, once again over a controversial development.

At issue is a 13-storey social housing project proposed for Arbutus Street between 7th and 8th Avenue, which would include 129 studio apartments for low-income people and people experiencing homelessness.

A minimum of 50 per cent of the units would be reserved for people currently homeless and on income assistance, while the other half would be held for people earning between $15,000 and $30,000 per year.

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More than 200 people have signed up to speak to the proposal, with emotions high on both sides.

Karen Finnan with the group Kitsilano Coalition described the proposal as a “failed model of housing,” owing to the high-proportion of proposed residents with complex issues.

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Click to play video: 'Helping at-risk homeless youth'
Helping at-risk homeless youth

“It’s contrary to the social science that indicates the best model for folks to move on to a better path in life is to be in scattered housing across the city, five per cent of each rental building having folks that are suffering form homelessness, at risk of homelessness, and have mental health and substage abuse problems,” she said.

“It’s going to import the culture of the street, and it’s not going to help the folks that live there.”

The group is also concerned about the building’s proximity to an elementary school, and has raised concerns that at-risk residents won’t have proper wraparound services.

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Supporters of the development and others like it say the city is already facing a homelessness crisis, and that action is needed now to give people dignified places off the street to live.

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Vancouver’s 2020 homeless count, the last conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, documented 2,095 homeless people in the city, about a quarter of them unsheltered.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver’s Kettle Society raising the alarm about the growing plea for help from vulnerable groups'
Vancouver’s Kettle Society raising the alarm about the growing plea for help from vulnerable groups

“People are dying due to lack of housing. Councillors need to save lives by approving this initiative,” Clara Prager, project lead with Women Transforming Cities, told Global News.

“Housing affordability is the top issue in Vancouver and the only way to address it is to build affordable housing in every neighbourhood.”

The City of Vancouver has offered the land for the project, with funding for the building coming from BC Housing.

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BC Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby said the proposal has already been modified based on neighbours’ feedback, including changing the resident mixture to 50 per cent low-income and 50 per cent supportive housing.

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Speaking on CKNW’s Jas Johal Show, he said he was open to further conversations on the proposal, but that at its heart the project needs to serve those most in need.

“We really need the housing, so whatever commitments we can provide around ensuring the tenant mix is going to work well and those kinds of things, I’m happy to have those conversations,” he said.

“The challenge is when people just simply don’t want anybody who has an addiction, anybody that is struggling any way to come into the building, it kind of defeats the whole point of trying to defeat homelessness and address homelessness by getting people inside.”

A public hearing on the proposal is slated to begin Tuesday evening, but could stretch on over several meetings due to the volume of speakers registered to address council.

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