Smallest rental units in Canada aim to make living in Vancouver affordable

Life in an apartment the size of a double parking space will be on full display today as the public gets its first inside look at the mini-living going on at the restored Burns Block building on West Hastings Street in Vancouver.

Boasting 30 micro units described as the smallest rental units in Canada by developer Reliance Properties and partner ITC Construction Group, the Burns building is part of the city’s ongoing affordable housing strategy.

Coun. Kerry Jang told The Province Sunday that the low-rent suites – which range in size from 226 square feet to 291 square feet and rent for an average of $850 a month – were designed with modest income earners in mind.

“What we are trying to do as part of the affordable housing plan and housing in general is to provide a range of housing,” he said. “Because right now, if you rent a place, it’s over $1,000 and that’s beyond people who are making $10 or $12 an hour.”

The city contributed a $50,000 grant to fix the face of the 100-year-old heritage building, $144,000 in property-tax reductions and 62,000 square feet in heritage bonus density.

The remodelling, which Jang described as “cool and funky,” was completed earlier this year and all 30 units were filled by early September.

Each self-contained suite is equipped with a fold-down bed, kitchen, built-in TV, shelving and folding table. Rent includes furniture and cable.

“It’s for folks who need to work in Vancouver but can’t afford to live here,” Jang added. “They can live in Vancouver, go to work and save money on cars and all that kind of stuff because they don’t have to drive in so it makes a big difference.”

But not everyone was upbeat about the new units.

Wendy Pederson, researcher and organizer for the Carnegie Community Action Project, decried the renovation of the old hotel as gentrification, adding people living on welfare or on old age pensions won’t be able to afford the rents even at $850.

“In my view, it’s a crime that the last housing before homelessness is being converted into micro-lofts,” she said.

“Those rooms used to rent at welfare and old age pension rates, and now the Downtown Eastside is being gentrified by the upscaling of these hotels. It’s upscale by our standards,” she said, adding the pre-reno rents were around $375.

“We don’t have enough social housing, and we’re losing our [single-room occupancy] hotels to upscaling like the Burns Block.

“The city is ignoring gentrification as a cause of homelessness,” said Pederson. “Many residents in a very full hotel were evicted [in 2006] by the owner who wanted to empty his building. ”

Pederson said the Vancouver fire department made the decision to close the building, but she accuses the owner of sabotaging the building in order to make a profit.

“That owner made $1 million flipping it,” she said.

Current renters will be on hand as part of the day’s tours to share their experiences on what it’s been like to live in such cozy quarters. Deputy mayor Raymond Louie is also scheduled to speak.

Source: The Vancouver Province




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