Red tape delays construction of Vancouver detox, social housing project approved 4 years ago

Click to play video: 'Red tape delays construction of Vancouver substance-use treatment facility'
Red tape delays construction of Vancouver substance-use treatment facility
While the needs for more drug treatment spaces is growing, critics want to know why it's now taken more than four years for such a facility to get the green light in Vancouver. Kristen Robinson reports – Mar 7, 2023

Stakeholders are frustrated a massive detox and social housing project approved by Vancouver city council more than four years ago is being held up by bureaucratic red tape.

The concerns come as the BC Coroners Service reports nearly seven people died per day of suspected illicit drug overdoses in January.

Read more: Almost 7 lives lost from toxic drugs a day as B.C. overdose deaths surpass 200 for January

The potentially game-changing facility will be built on city-owned land on the north side of East 1st Avenue between Clark Drive and McLean Drive.

Most of the city’s rental properties on that one block stretch are vacant but a handful of tenants, including Dan Zubkoff, are enjoying an extended stay since construction has yet to start.

“I’m glad I didn’t move out sooner when they were asking us to move out,” the tenant told Global News in an interview Tuesday.

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“Because I get to stay in, I think, a much better place than what they’re going to offer later.”

Click to play video: 'Access to drug treatment programs continues to be challenging in B.C.'
Access to drug treatment programs continues to be challenging in B.C.

The city is partnering with BC Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health on the mixed-use development which was touted as the largest of its kind in B.C. when it was approved by council on Feb. 21, 2019.

With 97 affordable rental units, a new withdrawal management centre with 51 in-patient treatment beds and other addiction treatment services and a social enterprise space aimed at providing Indigenous services, it’s designed to tackle the twin affordability and addiction crises.

Read more: Access to drug treatment programs continues to be challenging in B.C.

“I think it’s going to be huge for people who are seeking support for addiction services,” said peer clinical advisor Guy Felicella with the BC Centre on Substance Use.

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“It’s vital to have this facility up and running.”

According to the BC Coroners Service, the illicit drug supply claimed the lives of at least 211 British Columbians in January, with the total number of deaths surpassing 200 for the eighth time in the past 16 months.

At least 11,195 people have died due to toxic drugs since the province’s public health emergency was declared in April 2016.

Construction on the large detox centre was planned for early 2020, pending development approvals, but BC Housing said it’s still waiting on building permits from the city.

Click to play video: 'New report makes recommendations to tackle ongoing overdose crisis in B.C.'
New report makes recommendations to tackle ongoing overdose crisis in B.C.

The City of Vancouver said the original building design application was submitted based on regulations in the 2014 Vancouver Building Bylaw (VBBL) and the project experienced many delays due to “site challenges.”

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“Due to these lengthy delays, the application could not be approved under the 2014 Vancouver Building Bylaw (i.e. too much time passed between staff receiving this submission and the VBBL being updated) and required the design to be aligned with the current 2019 VBBL,” City of Vancouver spokesperson Kirsten Langan said in an email.

Vancouver councillor Pete Fry told Global News he would have hoped city staff would have kept the building permit approval process on track after the disconnect between the current and older building bylaws was identified.

Read more: B.C. budget: Billions earmarked for health care, addictions treatment

“We can’t go back in time but I would hope that more proactively, we can take a more thoughtful approach to grandfather in some of these things and really expedite the process,” Fry said.

“Especially in this project, which is actually a lifesaving intervention for folks who are otherwise dying on our streets.”

B.C.’s housing minister said he’s confident they will get the project up and running with construction underway this fall.

“The City of Vancouver understands how important this project is, we’re working through those bylaw changes that were brought in just recently,” Ravi Kahlon told Global News Tuesday.

“I’m very optimistic, at least in the sense that it will get built,” Felicella said.

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“I’d like to see that process start yesterday.”

Meantime, the suspense and stress of not knowing when he’ll have to find a new home continues for Zubkoff, who has rented the same house from the city for 35 years.

“When they get the permits, then you will get your notice to move and that’s been going on for about three years,” he said.

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