COPE Coun. Jean Swanson wants city staff to look into how to protect single-room occupancy hotels and low-income housing, which she fears could be adversely affected as a result of the construction of the new $1.9-billion St. Paul’s Hospital and health care facility.
Council approved the rezoning application for the hospital development last November. It’s being built on an 18.4-acre site on False Creek Flats.
At the public hearing for the application, Swanson voted in favour of the project, but she also raised concerns about gentrification and suggested the development could result in SRO rents going up. At that time, she introduced an amendment to the main motion calling on staff to report back on ways to protect lower-rent housing in the vicinity of the hospital. Mayor Kennedy Stewart ruled it out of order but indicated Swanson could bring it up as a separate motion at a later date.
That date is Jan. 21’s council meeting. She’s presenting a motion that, if adopted as written, would see city staff produce a report on the subject before hospital construction starts. Swanson wants it to include a public database of SROs and low-income housing and their rental rates, the possibility of increasing the Single Room Accommodation (SRA) replacement fee outlined in the SRA bylaw, and mechanisms for establishing restrictions on the rate of change of low-income housing other than SROs such as the Fan Tower and East Hotel.
“If city policies are not strengthened, the social and economic impacts of a massive development like St. Paul’s could be catastrophic for low-income residents living in nearby neighbourhoods and could contribute to a growing number of homeless people in the city,” Swanson’s motion states.
The new St. Paul’s site on Station Street is close to Chinatown, downtown south and within walking distance of the Downtown Eastside. Nearby SROs include the Ivanhoe, Cobalt and Arno hotels. They house about 230 units.
Swanson cites the city’s 2017 Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Revitalization Action Plan in her motion. It states: “In the context of few adequate housing options available to those on limited or fixed incomes, Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels play a role in Vancouver’s low-income housing stock as a last resort before homelessness for many of the city’s most vulnerable tenants.”
Although the SRA bylaw from 2003 was meant to slow the loss of affordability in SRO housing, Swanson says the level of affordability has declined. She adds that other city policies that require one-to-one replacement of SRO units haven’t been sufficient to maintain housing options for low-income tenants, while the number of rooms renting for less than $375 has dropped by half over the last decade.
Swanson told the Courier she hasn’t spoken to her council colleagues about her motion but she doesn’t think there should be many objections to it.
“[If it’s adopted], it’ll just be one piece of the puzzle. The other piece that we desperately need is vacancy control,” she said.