Burnaby council considers 401 Motor Inn proposal

The 401 Motor Inn, proposed for conversion to housing for the homeless, is located in Burnaby on Boundary Road, between Grandview Highway and Manor Street. - Wanda Chow/NewsLeader
The 401 Motor Inn, proposed for conversion to housing for the homeless, is located in Burnaby on Boundary Road, between Grandview Highway and Manor Street.
— image credit: Wanda Chow/NewsLeader

If approved, a proposed housing project for people who are homeless would be the first of its kind in Burnaby, says a local homeless advocate.

The proposal would convert the 401 Motor Inn at 2950 Boundary Road, between Manor Street and Grandview Highway, into 30 units of housing.

"This is a very exciting potential site," said Wanda Mulholland, community development coordinator for the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness.

Mulholland noted that a number of people and groups in the city have worked for several years to try to develop such a proposal.

"The number of places that are pre-existing in Burnaby that could be suitable for something like this is very limited."

Perhaps not surprisingly, the timeframe the proponent, the Vancouver-based PHS (Portland Hotel Society) Community Services Society, is working under is limited as well. Dan Small of the society told council Monday that the owner of the motel likely needs an answer within 30 to 60 days.

The owner, Hartco Investments Inc., has worked with the society before in converting its Bosman Hotel on Howe Street in downtown Vancouver to a pilot housing project for homeless people suffering from mental illness and addictions. It approached the society about a similar conversion of the Burnaby motel and agreed to give a 37.5 discount on the lease, for a five-year term with an option for another five years.

That still leaves the society having to find funding to cover half the cost of the lease (with the social assistance shelter allowance of residents covering the rest), about $144,000 a year, and any operating costs of staffing and support programs.

Small said the society is working on the funding issue with B.C. Housing which has expressed interest. "Getting a 'maybe' was pretty good."

He asked council to make a "symbolic contribution" to the project to encourage senior governments to get on board.

A lease costing $24,000 a month is required to secure the property for the project. Otherwise, the owner will carry on with their original plan to turn it into a boutique hotel.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan noted the city has a housing fund comprised of 20 per cent of cash amenity contributions made by developers in exchange for density bonuses. That could be used to cover the cost of development permit fees and the like, but the city will not take on capital or ongoing operating or program costs which are the responsibility of the provincial government, he stressed.

Even considering the concept is a "huge effort" on the part of council, Corrigan said. "So we've already come to this table with a considerable degree of effort over the last while."

Corrigan said he didn't think the idea of converting the motel to permanent housing was a good a idea, noting it was never designed for more than short-term stays.

The staff recommendations were to advise any proponents that, before council would consider it, a proposal needs to include staffing on site 24/7 with adequate support services. Proponents also need to submit a rezoning application, and have sufficient and sustainable funding and community support following a neighbourhood consultation process.

Council amended the recommendation to state that it would have to house homeless people from Burnaby and not elsewhere. Then it referred the matter back to staff to write a new report on the proposal based on council's desire that it be a transitional housing facility, and not permanent housing as was originally proposed.

"This will be a controversial decision in the community," said Corrigan of the proponent's short time frame. "I don't know that we should be driven by someone else's timeline."

Coun. Dan Johnston, vice-chair of the city's community development committee, explained in an interview that transitional housing comes with programs and supports to reintegrate people back into mainstream society before they are moved to permanent housing.

It's also what's needed most in Burnaby right now.

"We need to get people off the street and help them get a focus again and not just hide them away somewhere."

Mulholland said the task force is "absolutely" supportive of transitional housing, which would also help more people, opening up spaces as residents move on to permanent housing.

"It's quite challenging to move someone from the street to permanent housing without the supports and staff in place initially" as would be the case with transitional housing.

In addition to PHS, two of the Burnaby task force's partners, Lookout Emergency Aid Society and Progressive Housing, are also looking at the site and trying to secure funding, Mulholland said.

"The goal is to secure this site. The specifics of how transitional housing is operated from this site, and who is involved in that is secondary. All are in agreement that this site has great potential and would be greatly beneficial to Burnaby's homeless."

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