Vancouver councillor wants homeless modular housing in single-family zones

Sep 6 2019, 3:02 pm

The City of Vancouver wants to build more temporary modular housing developments for the homeless, but one big emerging problem appears to be where?

A new motion proposed by city councillor Christine Boyle would allow city staff to consider placing modular housing on single-family and multi-family residential zonings, specifically on parcels of private and city-owned land that are ideally near public transit and supporting services.

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The challenge with building more modular housing is that currently, such projects are only permitted on comprehensive development zoning, with the city’s first 10 modular housing projects totalling 600 beds built on city-owned and private properties that are currently vacant but awaiting future permanent developments.

“Under current Vancouver zoning by-laws, the land options for the provision of modular housing is extremely limited, and is quickly diminishing, as the need for additional temporary modular housing and the relocation of current temporary modular housing becomes necessary,” wrote Boyle.

“Amending Vancouver’s zoning by-laws to permit modular housing on RS and RT zones would provide the necessary options to meet the growing demand for modular housing and will significantly impact the unprecedented levels of homeless in the city of Vancouver.”

She asserts that initial community concerns about the close proximity of modular housing developments near residential areas and schools have subsided.

The city’s second modular housing project in the Marpole neighbourhood sparked months of on-site protests, even forcing the municipality to seek a court injunction to remove protesters from the construction site.

“Where zoning bylaws are overly restrictive and segregate uses unnecessarily, they can act as impediments to healthy urban development,” Boyle continued.

“Those experiencing homelessness come from every neighbourhood of our city, and so housing for homeless and low-income residents should be available in every neighbourhood of our city.”

Boyle wants city staff to return to city council by the end of the year with possibilities on expanding modular housing to more neighbourhoods and a wider spectrum of zoning.

Additionally, she is requesting the city to develop a strategy for acquiring single-family and multi-family residential zoned properties to use for modular housing, with the potential future use for permanent secure rental and social housing developments.

Currently, modular housing projects only provide single-occupancy units, but Boyle is requesting an exploration of building family-sized modular homes in future developments.

“The current limitation of modular housing being solely single occupancy units has the unintentional impacts of prioritizing individuals while excluding low-income families, mothers and youth,” she wrote.

“There is a significant need to expand modular housing to include family-sized units, to meet the needs of these residents of our city.”

According to the municipal government’s most recent homeless count conducted in June 2019, there are currently 2,223 homeless individuals in the city — an increase of 2% compared to the previous year, and the fourth consecutive year the number of homelessness has increased.

With that said, the rate of homelessness has also decreased compared to previous years, which suggests that the modular housing projects built to date have had “a positive, though inadequate impact.”

The municipal government, utilizing provincial funding, constructed the first 600 modular homes within a timeframe of just 17 months, with each project constructed in roughly two or three months and at a small fraction of the cost of a conventional permanent structure. The last of original modular housing projects reached completion in March of this year.

In December 2018, city council passed a motion calling for 600 more units of modular housing, and directed city staff to find sites for these additional projects.

In the 2019 budget, the provincial government announced $76 million to construct an additional 200 modular units across BC.

But there is also a need to find space for existing modular structures.

Within just a few years, some of these structures will need to be dismantled to make way for permanent redevelopments; if suitable locations are found, the modular structures can be reassembled elsewhere.

City council is scheduled to debate Boyle’s motion next week.

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