British Columbia

Province buys Victoria motel to temporarily house homeless people during pandemic

The B.C. government has purchased Paul's Motor Inn with the long-term plan of turning the site into affordable housing.

Long-term plan is to turn site of Paul's Motor Inn into affordable housing

Paul's Motor Inn welcomed travellers for almost five decades. It has been sold to the B.C. government to create temporary and permanent housing for those in need. (Madeline Green/CBC)

It's hard to miss Paul's Motor Inn if you are driving down Douglas Street in the provincial capital.

The retro-looking building occupies a high-profile piece of land that also includes a diner and a music venue. After welcoming travellers for almost 50 years, the 75-room motel has now been bought by the provincial government to shelter homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It allows the opportunity right now for the most vulnerable people in Victoria to have a place to stay," said B.C. Housing Minister, Selina Robinson, during an interview on On The Island.

In April, the City of Victoria leased 35 rooms at the hotel, which are being used as temporary housing for people in need during the current health emergency.

B.C. Housing plans to eventually redevelop the site at 1900 Douglas St. into a range of affordable housing. (Madeline Green/CBC)

By purchasing the entire hotel, the province says it can maintain these rooms and provide an additional 40 rooms for people as work continues with the city and other partners on permanent housing solutions.

"Now we can move more people in and engage with the community around what permanent housing might look like at that site long-term," said the minister.

Robinson said the community will be engaged when the time comes to consider moving forward with affordable housing units at the site and that, for now, there is no immediate threat to the diner and music venue. But, said Robinson, it is hard to say if that will be the case forever.

The music venue, formerly called the Copper Owl, closed in February but the space remains above the historic motel. 

The motel itself was established by Paul and Artie Arsen, who still own the Inn at Laurel Point.

The motel's new, temporary, residential occupants will be selected through B.C. Housing's coordinated access and assessment process.

People will have access to services such as meals, health care, addictions treatment and harm reduction, storage for personal belongings and other supports. The site will also feature 24/7 staffing to provide security to residents of the building and the surrounding neighbourhood.

Between April 25 and May 20, 344 people were moved from encampments on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park into safe, temporary accommodations with supports. The purchase of Paul's Motor Inn adds more available rooms for the homeless to shelter safely during the pandemic. (Madeline Green/CBC)

"This second motel purchase demonstrates the province's commitment to making long-term investments and to ensure that no one who has been housed during the pandemic ends up back on the street," said the city's mayor, Lisa Helps, in a statement.

The B.C. government paid approximately $15 million for the building at 1900 Douglas Street. The province also recently paid $18.5 million to purchase The Comfort Inn on Blanshard Street for the same purpose.

To hear the complete interview with Selina Robinson and host Gregor Craigie on On The Island, tap the audio link below:

With files from On The Island

now