British Columbia

Gregor Robertson agrees to turn Vancouver tent city into '100% social housing'

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says the currently vacant lot of 58 West Hastings will be entirely used for social housing in coming years. Over the past few weeks, the site has been home to a protest camp occupied by activists demanding social housing.

Commitment followed 90-minute meeting with DTES community members and advocates

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks to the media on the steps of the Carnegie Building after meeting with Downtown Eastside activists and community members Tuesday. (CBC)

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has committed to turn an empty lot that's been the site of a tent city protest into social housing.

Robertson made the announcement after meeting with poverty activists and members of the Downtown Eastside community Tuesday afternoon for an hour and a half to discuss housing issues.

"We've come to an agreement to make sure that the 58 West Hastings site is 100 per cent social housing," Roberson said. 

"Part of this is making sure this building is available to people who are on welfare, who are on pensions."

Protesters, led by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, have occupied the empty lot for almost a month. It has long been a contentious site for those arguing for affordable housing in the city; the lot was turned into a tent village during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. 

"We've lost so much of the housing here in Vancouver that was at shelter rates, partly because of affordability here in Vancouver, partly because welfare rates have been frozen for so many years," Robertson said.

"Whoever the next [provincial] government elected next year is, they have to commit to raising shelter rates so people can afford to live in this province. They have to commit to solving homelessness."

Robertson said the city has 20 vacant properties it wants to develop into social housing, in partnership with the federal and provincial governments. 

Completing the rezoning work for 58 West Hastings would probably take place in early 2017, Robertson said. The site, once developed, could have as many as 300 units of housing.

Robertson said it could take several years to get the housing built and have residents move in.

Other topics discussed at the meeting, according to Robertson, included the "unacceptable" condition of single room occupancy hotels. He said he wanted to "crack down on slumlords" with fines and court action, but needed more powers from the provincial government to do so.

The meeting between protesters and the mayor was scheduled in mid-July, when protestors stormed city hall, demanding to meet with the mayor to discuss affordable housing.

The mayor agreed to meet with the group in the next two weeks to discuss their needs in more detail.