Radical housing announcement expected today

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Francis Bula

Vancouver is about to see a radical new experiment in low-cost housing — the 21st-century version of residential hotels and rooming houses.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman is announcing today — along with who will run the older hotels the province bought in March — a new project for the Downtown Eastside that will consist of 120 rooms each between 200 and 250 square feet.

That’s far smaller than the 350 square feet now allowed by city bylaws, but it’s bigger than the 100 square feet of many of the older hotel rooms called SROs (single-room occupancy) in Vancouver.

It’s just a pilot project for now.

“But I think we’ll do more. We believe they’ll work,” said Coleman. “If you can house three people in the square footage that usually goes to one, we’ve housed two more people.”

The head of the agency that’s been chosen to manage that new project, which will be at 337 West Pender, says it’s not the kind of housing that is meant for people to live in for years, although perhaps some might choose to.

“But it is the size of a really good hotel room and we see it as a stepping stone up from an SRO,” said Darrell Burnham, the executive director of Coast Foundation, which focuses on housing, education and support for the mentally ill.

Burnham said the rooms, each with their own bathroom, will be a dramatic improvement over where many people are living now. “For long-term housing, it’s too small. For transitional housing, it will be quite nice.”

In the past, many poor people lived in rooming houses and hotel rooms throughout North America, but that form of housing was gradually eroded as cities tore them down in slum-clearance projects or condemned them for safety violations. Changes in city building codes made it impossible to build new ones.

San Diego experimented two decades ago with “new” residential hotels and built several designed by a prominent local architect.

They attracted a lot of praise, but very few were built after the early 1990s, after downtown businesses and residents complained they were attracting too many undesirables.

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


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