Hotly debated supportive housing project approved for Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood

·3 min read
An artist's rendering of the proposed project at Arbutus Street and 8th Avenue that was included in B.C. Housing's rezoning application to the City of Vancouver in 2021. (Supplied by B.C. Housing - image credit)
An artist's rendering of the proposed project at Arbutus Street and 8th Avenue that was included in B.C. Housing's rezoning application to the City of Vancouver in 2021. (Supplied by B.C. Housing - image credit)

After days of tense meetings and hundreds of speakers, Vancouver city council has approved controversial plans to build a social and supportive housing project in the Kitsilano neighbourhood.

Councillors approved rezoning for the project on Tuesday after a series of heated public hearings spaced out over a month. The final vote was 8-3, with councillors Melissa De Genova, Colleen Hardwick and Sarah Kirby-Yung against.

The project will create 129 single-occupany units for people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes. The new, 13-storey building will sit at the intersection of Arbutus Street and 8th Avenue, next to the future Arbutus SkyTrain station.

The project was hotly contested between neighbourhood residents opposed to what they described as the wrong development model in the wrong area, and housing advocates who said the city desperately needed more supportive housing units.

Hundreds of speakers, thousands of letters

Council heard from roughly 300 speakers over six public hearing meetings, one of which ran past midnight. More than 1,500 people wrote letters to council opposing the building, while 500 wrote notes asking that it go ahead.

The Kitsilano Coalition, a group that campaigned against the project, advocated for a housing model that would see supportive housing units spread out across Vancouver rather than concentrated in one tower.

The group had also voiced concerns about the building's proximity to an elementary school, parks and playgrounds.

"We asked for a model that is what's proven by the science, which is to disperse individuals across the city in smaller numbers amongst people that are living in regular condo buildings and rental buildings so that people don't feel stigmatized," said Karen Finnan, a volunteer with the coalition.

"We don't understand why we, the community members, ended up being the people advocating for the best solution for the vulnerable members in our society whereas the housing society was saying, 'Lets just put a roof over their heads and then we'll move on to the next project,'" she added.

"That's our frustration here. We were trying to do better for the vulnerable people in our community which would have the effect of doing better for those of us that live around them as well. It was a win-win, what we were putting forward, and instead council has chosen a lose-lose."

Those in support of the project noted the housing model has been more easily approved in other areas of the city, particularly to the east.

"This is just a new type of housing for the west side of Vancouver," said Robyn Chan, chair of the Vancouver City Planning Commission.

"I'm hopeful that, in between now and when residents move in, that there are a lot more opportunities for conversations with people who oppose the building and a lot more opportunities for people to come together and support the people who will be living in this neighbourhood," she added.

"I live right between two modular buildings and we have no issues in our neighbourhood. If anything, we are benefiting and they're benefiting from being in a supportive neighbourhood where people have been welcoming since the beginning."

B.C. Housing submitted its rezoning application to the city last fall.

Now that rezoning for the city-owned site is approved, the provincial agency is clear to apply for a development permit. Construction could begin as early as next year.

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