Non-profit to house women in shipping containers in Downtown Eastside

Atira boss says they won't 'look any different than any other apartment'

City council was expected to approve Tuesday a $92,000 grant to Atira Womens Resource Society to recycle shipping containers as social housing for senior women in the Downtown Eastside.

The grant and a development cost levy waiver of $43,420 would help fund 12 apartments, six rented at the welfare shelter rate of $375 a month, and six rented for $750 to $800.

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Janice Abbott, chief executive officer of Atira Womens Resource Society and Atira Property Management Inc., says the non-profit that provides housing and services to marginalized women wanted to build 57 units on the site at 502 Alexander St. near Jackson in 2009. Unfortunately, there is no housing program at present, which means there is no new money, and Im not sure there will be, so in the summer of 2010 we were faced with the decision of doing something else or doing nothing at all, Abbott said.

Atiras adjacent Imouto Housing for Young Women was renovated with money from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, through its shelter enhancement program, which Abbott noted is no longer in operation.

She then applied to B.C. Hydro, which was seeking proposals for an agency to use its energy efficient modular unit that was displayed in front of its offices on Dunsmuir Street during the 2010 Olympic Games.

The 700- to 800-square-foot unit displayed by B.C. Hydro will be divided in half to create two units. MC Quarters, a Vancouver-based manufacturer of modular housing, is donating another two units. Atira will purchase the other eight.

The 320-square-foot containers will be stacked three storeys high. Each will feature a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, in-suite laundry, a private bathroom, a kitchen with a fridge, stove and dishwasher. Interiors will be finished with drywall.

So once youre inside, its not going to look any different than any other apartment, Abbott said. We have purposely kept the exterior to look a bit industrial because we dont want to completely hide the fact that theyre shipping containers.

Imouto houses 17 mostly 18- to 21-year-old women, who were previously homeless in the Downtown Eastside, next door.

Abbott says Atira hopes the stable senior women selected to live at 502 Alexander will mentor the young women at Imouto.

The $1.7 million converted container project will cost an estimated $85,000 a unit, not including land costs. Atiras 108-unit Sorella Housing for Women at Abbott and Pender cost $270,000 per unit to build.

Abbott said the containers are expected to weather the years as long as, if not longer than, newly constructed buildings.

She said shes mostly heard positive responses about the project.

Twenty per cent of the comments I get are around livabilitywill it truly be livable, will you feel like youre living in a shipping container. One of the comments Ive heard are the optics of putting folks in the Downtown Eastside into shipping containers, she said. Theyre all valid concerns and at the end of the day well just have to wait and see when theyre built.

Abbott expects the units to open in the fall.

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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