Former bottle depot site in Downtown Eastside now $32 million rental highrise

Suites at 198-unit Olivia Skye building on East Hastings rent for $375 to $1,561 per month

The site of a once-thriving bottle depot in the Downtown Eastside has been turned into a $32 million rental highrise that offers 198 homes to a mix of people at different income levels who will pay between $375 and $1,561 per month for studio and one-bedroom apartments.

The 13-storey Olivia Skye building at 41 East Hastings, which is on the same property as the former United We Can bottle depot, has 52 studio units that will rent to single women at the provincial welfare rate of $375 per month—$570, if they have a partner.

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An additional 20 units are set aside for women aged 60 an older eligible for rent supplements. A total of 68 units will go to people earning $49,000 or less, and 78 units will be available to renters whose annual income doesn’t exceed $80,000.

Market rent for a studio is pegged at $1,242 per month and $1,561 for a one-bedroom.

The prices prompted questions from media Friday at a news conference held to officially open the building, which is along a strip that includes two drug injection sites and centred in a neighbourhood where crime and drug use is prevalent.

“We’ve had a massive response to our open houses for the low-end-of-market rents – I think almost all of them are rented,” said Janice Abbott, the CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society, which will manage the building.

Abbott said during the open houses, some potential tenants thought the prices were “a scam” and that they couldn’t be that low for Vancouver. A Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation survey released in November 2017 said the average rent for a one-bedroom across the city was $1,326 per month.

A suite inside the Olivia Skye rental building. Photo Dan Toulgoet

Funding for the project came from a variety of sources, including the city, provincial and federal governments and the Streetohome Foundation, which donated more than $1 million. The building is named in memory of Marnie Cresweller, a friend of Abbott’s and Atira who died in November 2016 of a fentanyl overdose.

“I knew Marnie would have hated having a building named after her, so I cheated and named it after her daughters [Olivia and Skye],” said Abbott, noting Skye also died of a drug overdose last summer.

She said most of the women moving into the subsidized suites are leaving “supportive housing,” which is housing set up to provide health care, counselling and other services for tenants. Women who move in with partners will have their names on the lease “so they will maintain control of the unit, no matter what,” Abbott said.

So far, about 20 people have moved in to the building, which is between Columbia and Carrall streets, but none was available after the news conference. All other tenants are expected to move in over the next two weeks.

Housing Minister Selina Robinson spoke at the news conference, saying the building represented “hope” for many women and families struggling to find permanent housing – a sentiment expressed by Mayor Gregor Robertson and Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, the Liberal MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, who also made speeches.

“It can be difficult to feel hopeful about housing or shelter in Vancouver, when affordable housing is out of reach for so many people,” Robinson said. “I know that people across this province and especially here in the Downtown Eastside have been struggling under the weight of the housing crisis for many years. There’s a lot of tough work for all of us ahead in order to address these challenges.”


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