British Columbia

Province purchases Howard Johnson and Buchan hotels in bid to create affordable housing

The province has purchased the 110-room Howard Johnson Hotel on Granville Street as part of a long-term plan to  build a mix of affordable homes for people in Vancouver.

Purchase is part of a wider plan to make temporary housing solutions during pandemic more permanent

The Howard Johnson Hotel on Granville Street has 110 rooms and has been purchased by the province as part of a long-term plan to build a mix of affordable homes for people in Vancouver. (CBC)

The province has purchased the 110-room Howard Johnson Hotel on Granville Street as part of a long term plan to build a mix of affordable homes for people in Vancouver and make some temporary housing relief brought in during the COVID-19 pandemic more permanent.

It has also purchased the 63-room Buchan Hotel on Haro Street, which will specifically provide supportive housing for women.

"We're taking action to build more affordable rental homes in Vancouver, as we continue to provide supportive housing and health care to people right now," said Selina Robinson, the minister of municipal affairs and housing in a statement on Wednesday.

"There's a real need for housing for people with different incomes, from young families to seniors, and we'll be engaging with the community on how we can use this site to deliver urgently needed homes."

In late April, B.C. enacted a public safety order to move homeless people living in tent city encampments into hotels in Vancouver and Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around 686 hotel and community centre spaces in Vancouver, and 324 hotel spaces in Victoria were identified, so that homeless residents of Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park, along with Victoria's Topaz Park and Pandora corridor could temporarily move into housing.

The B.C. government provided approximately $55 million to purchase the Howard Johnson hotel and the neighbouring development site, and $19.4 million to acquire the Buchan Hotel.

From temporary to permanent

Jill Atkey, CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, said she's encouraged that efforts to provide housing during COVID-19 are transitioning from temporary to more permanent solutions.

"We have been anticipating and hoping that more hotels would be purchased in order for government to be able to meet their commitment that once this pandemic is behind us, those that are temporarily housed during the pandemic would not be moved back onto the streets and sidewalks," she said.

"I really hope we use this unfortunate and devastating pandemic [...] to really make that connection and start understanding the value of housing."

The statement from the province said that until long-term plans are developed, the Howard Johnson site will operate as temporary supportive housing.

It says B.C. Housing will consult with the community about how the site and the adjacent parking lot can be used to tackle the housing crisis and build a mix of homes for people in Vancouver.

The site on Haro Street is currently empty, and residents will be able to move in as early as July. 

Atira Women's Resource Society will operate the housing at both sites, where residents will have access to meals, health care, addictions treatment, and harm reduction. The sites also have 24/7 staffing to provide security.

Atkey said supportive housing of this type has been brought in at 22 different sites around B.C.

"When people are housed with the appropriate supports, it actually sees a positive benefit in broader communities," she said.

"We know that this supportive housing will make a difference in the lives of people who gain access to housing through this purchase."

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