Summary

In 2017, the City introduced temporary modular housing for the homeless, to be placed on vacant, underused or yet-to-be developed sites. The homes are part of a $66-million commitment announced by the Government of British Columbia in September towards building 600 units of pre-fabricated, portable housing for homeless residents in the city.

Description

In November 2016, the Development Permit Board gave conditional approval of a development application to build 78 new temporary modular homes at the Pearson-Dogwood site in Marpole. The homes are part of a $66 million commitment from the Government of British Columbia announced in September towards building 600 units of pre-fabricated, portable housing for the city’s homeless residents. This housing would be placed on vacant, underused or yet-to-be-developed sites such as the Pearson Dogwood Lands. The City-Province partnership would allow the City and the Province to address the immediate and urgent needs of homeless residents in Vancouver while more permanent housing is being created. Noteworthy is the rapid response to the homelessness crisis which is possible with housing that can be built in 6 months from concept to completion.

Significance

It has been a top priority in Vancouver to provide the right supply of housing, with the right supports for the city’s lower income and homeless residents. By using temporary modular housing, lower-income and homeless residents are placed directly into housing with supportive services until they can transition to longer-term housing solutions. Temporary modular housing is a quick and effective way to address the urgent needs of the City’s most vulnerable residents while more permanent housing is being built for them.

What makes the City’s venture into temporary modular housing is the speed with which City officials, both City Council and City staff, and the Province have moved to design, fund and implement it, perhaps taking a cue from the short period of time it takes to erect a TMH project.

Background

In September, 2016 City staff developed a three-year plan for shelter and housing supply and demand to address the increasing number of homeless people in Vancouver and also the City’s obligation as landlord to relocate some of its tenants. Temporary modular housing (TMH) was included in the plan because it provides an opportunity to create additional supply expeditiously and cost effectively. TMH are homes built in a factory. When completed, the units are covered and transported to new locations, where they are assembled into a building by professional builders. They are not mobile homes but when completed look much like multi-unit apartment buildings.

Temporary modular housing offers many benefits:

  • Provides a home for lower-income and homeless residents within approximately six months of project start
  • Helps street homelessness by providing a home with the right supports until permanent, affordable housing is available
  • Designs are built to the City’s building codes
  • Creates a sense of community
  • Reduced waste during manufacturing and installation
  • Delays are less likely to happen during construction in a controlled environment
  • Provides an opportunity for temporary housing for up to three to five years
  • Can relocate and reconfigure to fit different sites or future sites

The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) invited 5 short-listed proponents, from a list of 12 that had responded to an RFQ, to submit responses to a site-specific RFP for the first pilot TMH project, a 40-unit three-storey building at 1500 Main Street (now addressed as 220 Terminal Avenue). Horizon North of Calgary, a leading provider in Western Canada of workplace, recreational campground and oil and gas industry housing, was selected for the project. The development of the 1500 Main Street site was seen to quickly provide a real-life example of what these projects will look like, and demonstrate how they will be managed.

The TMH dwellings were proposed to be micro-units — 36 measuring approximately 250 square feet, along with four larger wheelchair-accessible units. Each unit would have its own bathroom with a shower, a basic kitchen and a closet. Enough space is provided for a bed, small dining area and a few pieces of furniture. Indoor and outdoor common amenity space, and a central laundry, are also provided. Durable materials are used, including high impact-resistant drywall in the corridors, vinyl wall covering and resilient flooring. Each unit would cost from $80,000 to $90,000.

The TMH units were built at a Horizon North factory in Kamloops and shipped to Vancouver. Following a development approval process, installation was expected to take six days at the end of December with occupancy anticipated in February 2017.

It is intended that the building will remain on the Main and Terminal site for up to five years or, if necessary, until the land gets developed. It can then be dismantled, transported and re-assembled on another site that’s not being used or awaiting development. Units have 30- to 40-year lifespans.

An example of a TMH unit was on public display at 800 Robson during the last week of October (24-29), 2016, when the City assembled and heard many and diverse voices in 13 events so as to improve dialogue on housing affordability (re:address — DISCUSSIONS ON GLOBAL HOUSING SOLUTIONS).

Also at that time, General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability, in consultation with the General Manager of Community Services, submitted a report dated October 25, 2016 for the November 1 meeting of City Council: “Temporary Modular Housing Definition and Regulations: Proposed Amendments to Existing City-Owned CD-1 Sites, and Design Guidelines.”

This report described how the site at 1500 Main Street was selected because it is large enough to accommodate the project, it is City-owned and the existing zoning allows multi-family residential and rooming houses that are similar to the TMH design. The site is also a future redevelopment site located within the False Creek Flats planning area and the TMH will therefore be relocated as development proceeds.

Four other CD-1 sites were identified in an early round of additional potential sites for TMH. These sites were strategically selected for immediate zoning amendment because they are City-owned and have 10,000 sf of vacant or underutilized land that could accommodate TMH.

On November 1, 2016, City Council approved:

  1. THAT the General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability be instructed to make application to amend the Zoning and Development By-law to introduce a definition and regulations for TMH, to amend the by-laws for a number of CD-1 sites to permit TMH on them,
  2. THAT TMH Design Guidelines be approved in principle, and
  3. THAT staff to continue to explore opportunities to enable additional temporary modular housing across the City on a priority basis.

The report also advised Council that the three-year plan for shelter and housing completed by City staff in September was shared with BC Housing as a starting point for discussion with them about several topics, including:

  • opening an 190 additional temporary winter shelter beds for the upcoming season,
  • additional capacity becoming available as roughly 250 rooms in three BC Housing owned Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels come on stream as renovations are completed, and
  • an additional 39 rooms becoming available as a result of Council approved funding earlier in the year.

The report anticipated ongoing discussions with BC Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health as the three year plan will need additional resources for implementation.

City staff subsequently announced that the City proposes to take the TMH concept and build another 600 modular suites across Vancouver to provide homes for people living on the street and in shelters. Six hundred new units would effectively erase Vancouver’s street homeless population, which was recorded at 537 people in a homeless count in March. The proposal hinges on acquiring millions of dollars in funding from the provincial government. City staff didn’t have a fully costed estimate but noted it cost $75,000 per unit to build the 40-suite complex at Main and Terminal for a total cost of $3 million. Using those figures, it would cost $45 million to build 600 units.

About one year later, in September 2017, the Vancouver homeless count was released with the finding that 3,605 people were without a place to live, up 30 per cent from the previous count in 2014 (2,777 people).

On September 26, the BC Housing Minister, Selina Robinson, said in a statement that she has met with several majors to discuss housing solutions and was committed to reducing homelessness. She said that the province proposed to invest $291 million over two years to build 2,000 temporary modular supportive housing units for homeless people.

On Friday, September 29, 2017 Premier John Horgan announced that Vancouver would get $66 million to build and operate up to a dozen temporary modular housing complexes to house at least 600 homeless people. He announced the City-Province partnership during his closing address at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention saying that it would allow Vancouver and the provincial government to address the immediate and urgent needs of homeless residents in the city while more permanent housing is being created. The modular housing is meant as a rapid response to the homelessness crisis with housing that can be built in six months, from concept to completion.

In late November, 2017 the Director of Planning gave conditional approval of a development application to build 78 new temporary modular homes at the Pearson-Dogwood site at 57th and Heather in Marpole (7430 and 7460 Heather Street, previously 650 West 57th Avenue).

Based on feedback from the community the City staff placed conditions on the development permit to ensure on ongoing dialogue for successful integration of the temporary modular housing into the community:

  • BC Housing will amend the Operations Management Plan (OMP), as needed, to reflect periodic reports out from BC Housing to the City of Vancouver
  • The project shall have a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) that includes both community members and Parent Advisory Council members, as well as others representing community interest. The CAC shall be established and convene a first meeting prior to the occupancy permit issuance in order for BC Housing, Community Builders (as the operator) and the City of Vancouver to update CAC members on project progress and implementation of the Operations Management Plan (OMP)
  • This site will be tenanted in accordance with affordable/supportive housing tenanting best practices, taking into consideration the surrounding neighbourhood including the adjacent schools and other uses
  • The City of Vancouver will work with the Vancouver School Board, BC Housing and Community Builders to convene a community conversation prior to the occupancy permit in order update the community on the progress of the project, enable strong lines of communication, hear any continuing concerns and suggestions, and foster a positive reception for new residents

PostScript

As part of the development permit process for the TMH project in Marpole, the City hosted four community information sessions in the neighbourhood with 650 people attending. Meetings with community groups, including Marpole BIA, Marpole Community Association and Parent Advisory Committees from the schools in the neighbourhood were also held. Feedback was gathered online and in person with approximately 300 comment cards and 400 emails received.

In spite of this outreach and consultation, which resulted in the development approval conditions noted above, a day after the City approved the project, a few protesters blocked driveway entrances to the property to stop construction from beginning. The City issued infraction notices to protestors on the site who blocked the sidewalk, but the protestors continued to block entrances.

BC Housing Management Commission, the City of Vancouver, and the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation filed for an injunction to prevent protestors from blocking access to the site and stopping construction from beginning on this urgently needed housing project. The lack of access to the site had already impacted the timeline, with the result that people in need of this housing might not be able to move into the property before the end of winter.

On December 4, the Supreme Court of BC granted the injunction which would prevent further delays to the construction of the TMH at 7430 and 7460 Heather Street (650 West 57th Avenue). The injunction requires that no-one loiters on the streets or sidewalks adjacent site, obstructs or prevents access to the site.

On December 6, some members of the Marpole Residents, in a group called Coalition The Caring Citizens of Vancouver Society filed a petition asking for a judicial review after the city granted permission to house 78 homeless people in the community. The petition claimed that the City had failed to provide proper notice of a public hearing. When that petition was dismissed in January, the group filed an appeal. In a decision dated March 9, B.C. Court of Appeal Justice David Franklin Tysoe dismissed the appeal, noting the city had adequately provided notice.

Since August 1, 2018, 208 units in 4 projects were tenanted. Two projects providing, providing 98 units, were under construction. Two projects providing 200 units in total have been approved. Two additional projects are proposed, providing a total of 100 units. Altogether, as shown in the table below, 600 units of temporary modular housing are being achieved as proposed in September, 2016.

 

Address Status Single units
Union St and Gore Ave (898 Main St) Proposed about 50
215 West 1st Ave Proposed about 50
5077 and 5095 Heather
(formerly 4949 Heather St)
Approved about 100
610 and 620 Cambie
(formerly 688 Cambie St)
Approved about 100
Little Mountain 137 E 37th Ave Construction 46
2132 Ash St
(formerly 595 and 599 W 2nd Ave)
Construction 52
4480 Kaslo St Tenanted 52
525 Powell St Tenanted 39
1131 Franklin St Tenanted 39
7430 and 7460 Heather St Tenanted 78
Total as of August 1, 2018 about 600

A recent poll showed that more than three-quarters of Vancouverites support the City’s temporary modular homes program. The poll of 400 Vancouver residents by Research Co. was commissioned by the City of Vancouver. It was conducted between June 27 and 29. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

People 55 and older and high-income earners were most likely to “strongly support” the controversial program to address homelessness. The largest percentage of “strongly support” responses came from people 55 and older (47 per cent), people living downtown (57 per cent) and people who rent (51 per cent) rather than own their home.

Support varied by neighbourhood, with the biggest numbers in Downtown Vancouver (85 per cent strongly or somewhat support) and the lowest on the East Side (70 per cent).

Sources

City of Vancouver

Media