No funding for Burnaby homeless housing project: BC Housing

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

BC Housing doesn't have funding available to consider a proposed housing project for the homeless in Burnaby.

The proposal, by the Vancouver-based PHS (Portland Hotel Society) Community Services Society, would convert the 401 Motor Inn at 2950 Boundary Road, between Manor Street and Grandview Highway, into 30 units of housing.

If it goes ahead, it would be the first of its kind in Burnaby.

But that's not likely without BC Housing's involvement.

"The Province looks closely at every opportunity to help increase supports and services for those in need in our communities," said Seumas Gordon, senior manager of public affairs for BC Housing, in an email.

"Many variables are considered when proposals are presented to BC Housing. While the 401 Inn, is a good project, this year’s capital and operating funds are fully allocated."

The City of Burnaby's director of planning, Basil Luksun, had earlier relayed the same message to delegations speaking on the project at the council meeting Monday night.

"Certainly, from our experience," Luksun said, "if there is no funding it is extremely unlikely that this project would proceed."

But Wanda Mulholland of the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness, who spoke in support of the project, is undeterred.

Members of the task force had met with Burnaby-North Liberal MLA Richard Lee, who agreed to speak with Housing Minister Rich Coleman on behalf of the proposal, which is on a "promising site in Burnaby," Mulholland told council, adding Coleman responded by asking that a copy of the proposal be sent directly to him in addition to BC Housing.

"The task force is hopeful that Minister Coleman will reassess the funding issue and don't believe that conversation is completely finished," she said.

But not everyone is on board. Ruth Topolnicky, strata president at a nearby apartment complex on Manor Street, expressed concerns to council that potential tenants of the project could increase criminal activity in the neighbourhood.

In the past 20 years, the neighbourhood has had to live with break-ins, drug houses, drug dealing, addicts shooting up on residents' patios and stairwells, stolen cars left in their visitors parking lot and occasionally, prostitution.

The situation has improved the last few years, Topolnicky said, and residents are still being educated on the need to report incidents to the police.

The housing project raises concerns that those modest gains will be lost, she said.

Despite the lack of provincial funding for the project, council approved a set of conditions for it to consider any such projects at the 401 Motor Inn site.

These include that it have staffing on-site 24/7, that it have sufficient and sustainable funding and provide transitional supported housing to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, with a preference for people from Burnaby.

Any such proposal would have to be supported by area residents through a neighbourhood consultation process, and require a rezoning application.

Mayor Derek Corrigan didn't appear to be keen on the proposal. There's a need to house homeless people close to support services, he said.

"The irony is young people in the community have to move to Surrey and Langley to find housing. Yet there's an expectation that those who are indigent, who aren't working, have a right to live in the urban core. That doesn't make sense to me."

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