A renovation group has been chosen and renovations will soon begin at 13 provincially owned single room occupancy (SRO) hotels in the Downtown Eastside.
A group called Habitat Housing Initiative, comprised of architects, construction and finance groups, will take on the five-year project. More than $100 million is provided by the provincial and federal governments.
Atira, a Vancouver women's resource society, is currently in charge of managing seven of the 13 hotels slated for renovations. Atira CEO Janice Abbott said of the SRO hotels their group manages, "the ones in the worst shape are in really bad shape."
Abbott and Atira were the subjects of a recent CBC TV news story detailing the appalling conditions of an Atira-run building.
Abbott said getting these renovations is profoundly important, as she's noticed there are far fewer issues with tenants in the buildings that have been renovated.
"That's probably a result of a sense of pride. When your building is rotten, the floors ripped up and the bathrooms leak, there's not a lot of incentive to look after your home," said Abbott. "I don't think it's surprising that people do better when their surroundings are clean and damage-free."
B.C. Housing says the renovations will enable the buildings to retain their heritage value while maintaining affordable housing for the people residing there.
Prod Laquian, a UBC professor who has studied poverty alleviation and urban slums around the world, doesn't think the renovations are the best approach, or that it will combat the cycle of poverty. More so, he said it may simply paint over the larger issue.
"You have all of these amenities and it looks beautiful and clean, but you still have all of those facilities that provide drugs. It will continue to attract those who are looking for that," said Laquian, a professor emeritus at the Centre for Human Settlement. The current occupants are mainly Downtown Eastside residents with limited income. The rent for one of these rooms is $375 per month .
Laquian said the money dedicated to the renovation project would be better spent on a long-term solution involving social programs to help break the poverty cycle. Currently, the Downtown Eastside is still too big of a draw for those living in poverty, according to Laquian.
"This is a short term solution. It's not going to solve the larger problem of homelessness," he said. "What they really need is to be restored back to a state of mental health that will allow them to be self-sufficient.
But Abbott maintains the renovations will address many issues with the current buildings, including a lack of kitchens or common rooms in many of the buildings - a crucial step according to her.
"The ability to have a kitchen and cook their own meals for some people, it will be life altering," said Abbott. "There's a sense of empowerment that comes with being able to live like other people, cook your own meals and look after yourself."
The project is a continuation of renovations to a total of 24 SRO hotels purchased by the province in 2007. Partial renovations have cost $65 million so far.
B.C. Housing is currently looking for temporary housing for residents of hotels that need to be vacated during renovations.
Renovations begin at the Marble Arch Hotel on Richards Street immediately.