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Marpole residents say modular housing not as bad as feared, but whole story not told

Last Updated May 15, 2019 at 8:51 am PDT

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Marpole residents say supportive housing in the area is not as bad as feared but not as rosy as city portrays it

City of Vancouver calls the temporary modular housing for homeless a success with minimal impact to neighbours

But some living near a 78-unit complex in south Vancouver say it's not the whole story

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Not as bad as feared, but not as rosy as the city is portraying it. That’s the sentiment from some neighbours of a supportive housing complex for the homeless in south Vancouver, which opened a little more than a year ago.

In late 2017, there were rallies against the location of temporary modular housing on Heather Street in Marpole.
Since then, representatives from one residents’ group admit many of their concerns have not been realized, however, they say, it hasn’t come without a lot of work from community-minded neighbours.

“Behind the story, we have actually done a lot of things to contribute in the community — to help, to monitor — to help it run smoothly,” says Long Tran, who volunteers at the local community policing centre.

While the City of Vancouver has touted temporary modular housing as a success story for both tenants and neighbourhoods, Tran — who has lived in Marpole since 2003 — says staff have not provided a complete picture.

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“For example, we have a very good community watch with over 1,000 people exchanging information about anything that happens in Marpole. We have patrol teams, volunteers with the community policing centre. We have had a lot of support from the Kerrisdale Oakridge Marpole community policing centre to help adapt to the change,” Tran tells NEWS 1130.

“There was big impact when it first came and nobody knew what was going on. City staff and officials didn’t provide enough information, there was no transparency, so people had fear. That was the first mistake the city learned from.”

Tran claims it has taken a lot of effort from community-members communicating concerns to the city to help the supportive housing complex meld into the area with minimal impact. However, he says, many neighbours remain concerned with its proximity to a school.

“It’s 25 steps, 23-feet, away. I measured the width of the street myself. It’s a big concern for kids and their parents. I appreciate the city has listened and kept the tenants behaving well enough and supervised. It’s manageable and hopefully everybody’s effort will keep it going as good as today.”

Tran also suggests the city’s characterization of police calls to the area over the past year is overly rosy.

While a few dozen responses are relatively low compared to other parts of Vancouver, Tran claims it is still a significant increase for the neighbourhood compared to the months preceding the opening of the Marpole temporary modular housing.

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Winnie, another longtime Marpole resident, adds that a community advisory committee set up to deal with concerns from residents has helped.

The committee includes representation from BC Housing, the health authority, city staff, local businesses, community organizations, and community members.

“With all the concern initially from Marpole residents, they are very aware that we want to make sure everything works out. It’s good, they have been hearing what we are saying about making the area safe. There’s still not full transparency, but they are making the effort to try to work with the neighbours. Anytime we have an issue, we go to them right away so they know we are watching and they know we are aware,” she says.

“There haven’t been a whole lot of bad incidents, however the unfortunate thing is other people have been attracted to the area. It’s all great and rosy that the residents there are doing well and not bothering people but they are attracting friends and others and it becomes a hub.”

She claims needles and other indications of drug use have increased in neighbourhood parks and there have been incidences of squatting in an empty home. She and Tran also say they have noticed an increase in police patrols, particularly during the night.

For its part, BC Housing says all its modular supportive housing units are staffed 24/7 to support residents, manage the building and be available to respond directly to any concerns in a timely manner. That includes regular sweeps of the immediate neighbourhood.

It also claims that many of the community advisory committees for modular housing across the city have started to reduce their meeting length and times due to a lack of issues and concerns being raised.