A plan to build a new mixed-use affordable housing complex and shelter in the Downtown Eastside will move forward following Vancouver City Council’s unanimous decision to approve the project on Tuesday evening.
The rezoning is for 1015 East Hastings Street, a vacant site immediately north of the Hastings Street viaduct over the CN railway to the port waterfront, right at the northwest corner of the street’s intersection with Glen Drive.
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The property, owned by the municipal government, was first identified for its potential for social housing, supportive housing, and a shelter for Indigenous people in 2016. This is a project led by the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society (VAFCS), in partnership with BC Housing and the City of Vancouver.
There will be a complex of two joined 14-storey residential towers reaching up to 139 ft in height, containing a combined total of 163 homes of mixed tenure.
“The two residential blocks are given a special skyline identity by their respective amenity penthouses. These, together with their cousin the Shelter entry portal, are loosely inspired by the interior of the cedar bentwood boxes of the coastal First Peoples,” reads the design rationale by the project’s design firm, Low Hammond Rowe Architects.
VAFCS will operate the west building’s 85 units of social housing, which will have a unit mix of 15 studios, 35 one-bedroom units, 30 two-bedroom units, and five three-bedroom units. These long-term, below-market renters will have access to extensive indoor and outdoor amenity spaces on the tower rooftop.
Within the first four levels of the west building, there will be 25 units of transitional social housing, social services within a Day Centre, and a new replacement VAFCS shelter with 80 beds. The Day Centre includes a dining room, kitchen serving two meals daily to residents, a day lounge, library, meeting space, art studio, counselling spaces, and cultural gathering and ceremony space.
The shelter beds will be offered on a 90-day term to eliminate the need for daily queuing, and free up time for homeless individuals to allow them to pursue “personal wellbeing, betterment, and employment.”
The other major components are within the east building, which will have 53 secured market rental homes, with a unit mix of 15 studios, 33 one-bedroom units, and five two-bedroom units. This market rental housing space will be completely self-contained, physically separate from the rest of the complex with its own elevators, circulation, exiting, building services, and resident amenities.
The intention is to sell the market rental component to a private owner as a turnkey rental property, with the proceeds shared between the project proponents to help cover the complex’s construction cost.
On the east building’s ground level, a 4,600 sq. ft. ground level space will be used as a social enterprise, including a cafe and bicycle repair operation.
Although the project brings an infusion of affordable housing benefits and renews shelter capacity in the Downtown Eastside, the chosen residential uses for the site were a concern for a number of city councillors.
The railway cuts through the western edge of the property, and there are plans by CN to twin the railway leading to the port to accommodate growing freight traffic. Proponents state they have performed mitigation in their design to reduce noise and vibrations from the passing trains.
“I want to provide quality housing, and I’m pretty gravely concerned with the proximity to the rail line and the associated issues there. You can only mitigate to an extent, so this is a question of weighing the greater good and lesser evils. We are putting people in a housing situation that is less than ideal in terms of wellness, and that concerns me, quite frankly,” said NPA councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung.
Kirby-Yung adds that she is concerned with the loss of industrial uses on this property, given the region’s shortage of industrial land, especially in suitable areas, such as near the port. A decision was made by a previous city council to permit non-industrial uses on this site, and Kirby-Yung suggested if that decision was in front of the current city council, she would not support the alternate land uses.
“I hear, and city council and staff hear, the noise and train concerns,” added OneCity councillor Christine Boyle.
“It’s one of the many important reasons why we should be supporting and building rental and non-market housing off of arterials and adapting our policies to make that easier to do.”
The total floor area is 156,184 sq. ft., providing the complex with a floor area ratio density of 6.8 times the size of the 22,970 sq. ft. lot.
Three levels below the shelter provide 59 vehicle parking stalls and 318 bike parking spaces.