Sunday, May 15, 2016

Good news: City of Vancouver pursues relocatable modular housing concept to provide affordable housing

Some of the media coverage from my earlier presentation of this idea
This past Thursday morning I was pleased to find an email from the Vancouver Communications Office advising of a press conference at 9:30 to announce that the city was moving forward with the idea of creating to 'temporary' communities using modular housing. Five firms had been shortlisted for two sites: one at 1500 Main Street and the other above a parking structure on Howe Street. Readers of this blog will know that this is an idea I have been promoting since the 2008 election campaign. Indeed, I have been promoting the idea for 45 years since this was my University of Toronto thesis.

Here is the city's press announcement.

City of Vancouver News Release
May 12, 2016
City takes next steps on modular housing pilot project

The City of Vancouver is taking the next steps on a new solution for providing temporary housing for low-income residents. The Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) has proposed two initial sites to launch a modular housing pilot program: 1500 Main St. and 1060 Howe St.

"We've made gains creating housing for modest income households, but our housing market is very difficult for people on fixed incomes," says Mayor Gregor Robertson. "We need to tackle the housing affordability crisis head-on with creative approaches like modular housing. We have a huge task ahead of us, but we're not backing down, and we'll keep pursuing all options to build more affordable housing."

After shortlisting twelve companies to build modular housing on these sites, the City is now issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to five of the companies with the most experience to submit site specific designs.

VAHA anticipates that 1500 Main St. will be able to accommodate approximately 40 - 80 micro suites (with bathrooms and kitchens) and amenity space. The site at 1060 Howe St. will be able to accommodate roughly 40 suites (with bathrooms and shared kitchen facilities) on a raised parkade at the rear of the building. Each pilot site will be operated by a non-profit society to be selected by the City.

Scheduled to be up and running by late fall, proponents are encouraged to submit designs which complement the look and feel of the neighbourhoods into their concepts.

Once the RFP process concludes, the successful proponent(s) will submit an application for a temporary development permit for each site. As part of that process, a formal community notification process will take place, seeking input from neighbouring residents and businesses.

VAHA has been mandated to create new affordable housing to address Vancouver's housing affordability challenges as quickly as possible. These facilities are a concrete step in providing below market temporary housing to individuals on income assistance or fixed incomes. To provide permanent, affordable housing, the City has offered up 20 sites of city-owned land worth $250 million to the provincial and federal governments, to partner on creating more than 3,500 new homes.

For more information on the modular housing pilot project and the shortlisted proponents, visit<>

When:          Thursday, May 12, 2016 9:30 am - 10:00 am

Where:         1500 Main St. Vancouver (corner of Western St. and Northern St.)
Who:            Mayor Gregor Robertson, Mukhtar Latif, Chief Housing Officer

This is the second announcement this year. The following are excerpts from a February 2016 blogpost:
A panel I prepared as part of an exhibit that was on display in City Hall outside the Mayor's office a few years ago.

I woke up this morning to hear Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang on CBC talking about the city's request for proposals to create relocatable housing projects for the homeless. While I know that sometimes you are supposed to glow on the inside, I could not help but think "Hey, they have finally followed up on my idea!" It's an idea that I developed as my architectural thesis at the University of Toronto in 1970 and subsequently pitched during and after the 2008 Vancouver Municipal Election. Here's a bit more on the origin of this idea as set out in a 2013 blogpost. I do hope that this time the idea may actually proceed.
A 2013 Christmas Present for Vancouver's Homeless
In 2009 I made a proposal to the Province and the City of Vancouver following a study I undertook in conjunction with architects NSDA with funding from BC Housing. Our proposal was to create a stock of affordable modular units that could be set up for a period of time on a site, and subsequently relocated. Just like school portables are often used.

At the time, the proposal received a lot of media coverage but didn't go anywhere, in part I'm told, because neither Gordon Campbell nor Rich Coleman liked the idea of housing people in 'containers'.

The fact is, these weren't containers...they were purpose built prefabricated modular units that could be set up on a private property and relocated after say three years or more once the property was approved for redevelopment.

Others objected to the proposal because on a cost per square foot they claimed they were not much cheaper than permanent housing. Well, that might be true...except the units were planned to be much smaller and permanent housing solutions in Vancouver often cost significantly more than they the order of $300,000 a unit. or up to $1000 a foot for projects like the Pennsylvania Hotel.

Relocatable modular units would cost less than one sixth of this amount, and take significantly...let me repeat significantly less time to construct.

Others pointed out that there's nothing more permanent than a temporary solution. I agree. But by placing these units on private property, they would ultimately be relocated...just like the community garden at Davie and Burrard. It won't be there five years from now!

Below is an abbreviated version of a presentation I made to the DTES community at the Carnegie Centre in which I suggested that we use the parking lots of the Drake Hotel for this type of housing.  Sadly, it did not proceed...meanwhile the facilities at the Drake have remained unused...and I don't believe we're much further ahead on a permanent redevelopment of that site.

So here's my proposed Christmas present to Vancouver's homeless. Let's try a demonstration project in 2013 to test out this idea. I am confident that while it is not THE answer to housing the is another solution that could dramatically help many people by moving into something that's much better than a shelter, at a relatively modest cost.

Finally, here's a description of the proposal that was published on the ThinkCity website and a Vancouver Sun commentary by my colleague Bob Ransford whose judgement is regarded highly by many of us in the Vancouver housing and development community.

And a CTV story:

As we approach a new year, with a 2015 goal of ending street homelessness, I hope that the City and Province will take another look at this idea so that we might create a demonstration program by next Christmas Eve. What a wonderful Christmas present that might be for many Vancouver residents currently in shelters or on the street.  Merry Christmas


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