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Vancouver's Burns Block bought by province to help women in need of housing

Last Updated Apr 21, 2021 at 11:45 am PDT

A rental unit in the Burns Block building. (Reliance Properties Ltd.)

17 units of the renovated Burns Block are now available to women experiencing homelessness

The W. Hastings building was bought by the province

The building will also provide counselling, health care, recovery groups, and community meals

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Women without stable housing in Vancouver have a new place to call home with the province’s purchase of the Burns Block building.

Seventeen of the 30 suites are available immediately in the 112-year-old building at 18 W. Hastings St for women who are committed to reducing or stopping substance use. It will be managed by Atira Women’s Resource Society and support services including counselling, health care, recovery groups, and community meals are also being provided.

The other 13 units are rented to tenants at market rates. The building also includes a gym, rooftop patio, and on-site laundry.

“Housing is about so much more than just a roof over a head. In this case, it’s about the services and supports that can help women leave behind substance use and chart a path toward health and healing,” Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said. “Projects like this one at Burns Block show what we can accomplish when we have a government that makes real investments in supporting the lives of neighbours who for too long have been pushed to the sidelines.”

Originally an office building, Burns Block was converted to single-room occupancy residential units. According to the province, mismanagement and fire code violations prompted the City of Vancouver to shut down the building in 2006. Tenants were evicted.

The building was renovated in 2011 by a new owner, Reliance Properties, into studio suites. However, the company says over the last several months, half of its tenants moved out, saying the worsening homeless situation, compounded by the overdose crisis, created dangerous conditions in the area.

“It is a bittersweet moment for us,” the company said in a release. “On the one hand, we are sad to give up an asset that helped define Reliance Properties as a creator of innovative housing solutions. On the other hand, we are pleased to help fill an important community need for women experiencing homelessness.”

Later this year, BC Housing will lease the commercial space on the ground floor to Atira Women’s Resource Society to create an on-site outreach program.

“I watched the decline and emergency closure of the Burns Block 15 years ago, leaving dozens of people homeless,” Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby said. “This injustice to the Burns Block residents was one of my first files as a lawyer, and it was shocking and disturbing to me to watch our housing system fail. While this purchase won’t help my old clients evicted with just hours of notice more than a decade ago, that this housing is coming into public hands to provide urgently needed housing for women experiencing homelessness for years to come is sweet justice.”

With files from Vanessa Doban