12th and Cambie: SRO FYI

How this news ended up in my junk email box is a little perplexing.

Didn't see much, if any, coverage on the fact the feds and the provincial government will spend a total of $116 million to renovate and restore 13 single-room occupancy hotels in the Downtown Eastside.

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The feds are in for $29 million and the province will contribute $87 million. The $116 million tab seems like a lot-almost as much as my annual salary-but it would be even more if the provincial government didn't already own the hotels. Now the governments just have to find somebody to do the work. This project is being referred to as a public-private partnership, or P3, and means the lucky contractor will be required to finance construction costs and provide long-term financing.

Many of the 13 hotels are more than 100 years old and in need of structural, plumbing and electrical upgrades. Apparently, "heritage features" will also be renewed.

The release includes canned quotes from Mayor Gregor Robertson ("_another important step toward our goal of ending street homelessness by 2015_") but doesn't clarify whether any new units will be built beyond the current capacity of 900 tenants.

This has been a chronic complaint of Wendy Pedersen, Jean Swanson and company-poverty activists-who say two things: one, renovation doesn't necessarily lead to more units built; and, two, the money would be better spent on new housing and not on SROs, which are really temporary living quarters.

I can already hear Housing Minister Rich Coleman pointing out that more than 1,500 new units are being built on 14 city properties around the city, including one right outside the Courier's office.

Some of the buildings, including one on Station Street, have opened and provide tenants with access to health professionals and counselling.

The $116 million will be spent on the following hotels:

- The Beacon, 7 West Hastings

- Cordova Residence/Cordova Rooms, 56 Cordova

- Dominion Hotel, 210 Abbott

- Gastown Hotel, 110 Water

- Hazelwood Hotel, 344 East Hastings

- Marble Arch Hotel, 518 Richards

- Marr Hotel, 401 Powell

- Orange Hall, 329-341 Gore

- Roosevelt/Molson's Bank building, 166 East Hastings

- Sunrise Hotel, 101 East Hastings

- Tamura House, 398 Powell

- The Rice Block, 404 Hawks

- Washington Hotel, 177-179 East Hastings

In 2007, the provincial government began buying single-room-occupancy hotels and now owns more than 20 in the Downtown Eastside. Non-profit housing operators manage the hotels, whose tenants including people who were previously homeless.

Rats, bedbugs and hazardous living conditions were-and still are, in some hotels-prevalent. Many hotels had notorious reputations for drugs, crime and violence.

In 2008, the provincial government announced a partnership with the Vancouver Police Department to have officers assigned to work with staff and tenants at 17 of the hotels.

Violent crime in that neighbourhood, however, remains the highest in the city.

mhowell@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Howellings

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