Vancouver gets new affordable housing after long court battle

A controversial land swap deal has turned into 162 affordable homes at the new Jubilee House, which officially opened Wednesday.

New Jubilee House in downtown Vancouver offers mix of social housing and low-end market rate units

The New Jubilee House offers social housing in downtown Vancouver. (Stefan Labbé/CBC)

A controversial land swap deal between the City of Vancouver and a developer has turned into 162 affordable homes at the new Jubilee House, which officially opened Wednesday.

The new building downtown boasts a mix of 116 studios and 46 one-­bedroom homes on Richards Street. 

"We've had to make innovative moves to make affordable housing available," said Mayor Gregor Robertson. 

"We've now replaced most SRO housing in the area."

From left: 127 Society president Joan Seidl, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver-False Creek MLA Sam Sullivan at the rooftop opening of the New Jubilee House. (Stefan Labbé/CBC)

As part of the deal, residents of the original Jubilee House will move into 87 of the units at the new building, while a new residential tower will go up at the edge of Emery Barnes Park

Another 75 units at the new Jubilee House will be offered at the "low end of market rates," from $375 a month for those on welfare to about $1,500 for the one-bedroom units.

"That's below the market average in this neighbourhood of $1,700 to $1,900 a month," said Joanne Graham, executive director of 127 Society for Housing, the not-­for-­profit that runs the building.

Application process

For the low-end market rate units, there will be an open application process for anyone over 45 — that's how the 127 Society classifies seniors, whether they are low income or not.

Joan Seidl, president of 127 Society, says it's because a lot of their residents come off the street or have worked for years as labourers.

"Many have had hard lives and their bodies have aged faster than yours or mine," she said.

"You put them in a warm and comfortable place and all of a sudden they start to live longer."

Applicants for the 75 units will be interviewed to assess whether they can fit into the community, which will mean participating in events and helping other residents when they need it. 

Staff will also be on site to help organize events, group meals and activities like bingo.

The idea is to create a sense of community. Residents can gather at the in-­house library, community room or rooftop patio that looks out over the city.

Special features

Before they can move in, residents first must make a trip to the basement. That's where the fully insulated "debugging room" is.

"It's all insulated," said Steve Alavi, the building's project manager, pointing to two large stoves. "It's like a sauna."

Only instead of steaming up a room full of half-­naked loungers, this room is meant to kill bedbugs.

Steve Alavi (left), project manager for the New Jubilee House, talks with maintenance manager Don Lafort. (Stefan Labbé/CBC)

Upstairs, each unit has walls filled with diatomaceous earth, a natural white powder whose crystal shards slice through the exoskeletons of burrowing bedbugs.

Another added touch: 80 per cent of the incoming residents self-­identify as smokers, so each unit has been outfitted with a vent that forces air from the roof and pressurizes each room.

"This ensures the residents won't be living in stale air," said Alavi. "Even the smokers."