News Local

Vancouver SROs sitting empty: city 0

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

A homeless person sleeping in a doorway in Vancouver.
(FILE PHOTO/24 HOURS)

A homeless person sleeping in a doorway in Vancouver. (FILE PHOTO/24 HOURS)

Hundreds of single-room occupancy suites sit empty in Vancouver as the city worries it may not meet its 2015 goal of ending street homelessness, according to discussions at city hall Tuesday.

City manager Penny Ballem said in her report that more than 1,300 SROs units could be just sitting empty for a variety of reasons — the building could be closed, the landlord could be doing it on purpose, renovations are underway, among other causes.

“About 740 units in SROs ... are currently being renovated, as they renovate them, they have to displace people,” she said.

“We estimate about 600 empty rooms (in vacant or closed buildings), some of them are old buildings that are empty, and some of them are parts of buildings where the rooms are just vacant for a long time.”

Those are significant numbers because in this year’s homeless count, the city had 538 people still considered as “unsheltered homeless” — up nearly double the count last year.

Ballem said the city would try to do what it can with respect to the empty units, but for now, she pushed the suggestion of asking the provincial government for $250,000 in annual funding for rent subsidies.

She anticipates many of the suites being renovated — a lot of renovations are to address building violations — likely won’t be affordable for those on welfare, as rents tend to increase after repairs.

According to the city’s numbers, only 24% of its SRO housing capacity is considered affordable within the welfare range.

Using supplements could cover that affordability gap, she said, since for those residents, even monthly rents of $400-$500 are “too high.”

The city also has supportive housing units due to finish construction this year or in 2015 — though some have been delayed. In a best-case scenario, these projects would bring 492 additional units. At the worst case, 374 units.

 

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