Vancouver's Portland Hotel Society wants Burnaby to "turn the light on" to address homelessness in the city.
Dan Small, a director with the society, spoke at council on Monday night, asking the mayor and councillors to demonstrate support for an affordable supported housing project at the 401 Motor Inn at 2950 Boundary Rd. The plan would see the motel turned into social housing with support services, such as on-site staff and counsellors.
But the timeline for the project is tight - the society has been working with the owner, Shakil Adam, to secure support and funding for the project within one to two months, according to Small.
"It requires a lease to save it," Small said of the space, adding if action isn't taken soon, "the reality is, it's going to be lost."
The family, which also owns Bosman's Motor Inn in downtown Vancouver and has leased it to the society for a pilot project for the past two years, plans to convert the motel into a boutique hotel if the project doesn't go forward, he said.
"What I'm hoping for is a symbolic contribution," Small told council, saying that could include relaxing development fees for the project and identifying the project as a priority for the city.
Mayor Derek Corrigan informed Small that the city has a housing account, with 20 per cent of its amenity bonus development funding set aside for low-income housing projects, in the form of covering certain development and rezoning fees.
He also told Small the city makes social housing applications a priority, putting them at the top of the list.
But Corrigan and city councillors also expressed concerns about the proposed project.
Council's main concerns included ensuring that any such social housing project prioritize those people identified as homeless or at risk of being homeless in Burnaby; that supported housing be transitional rather than permanent; and that the city not be responsible for capital or operational funding.
Corrigan also said other levels of government should come to the city with proposals for projects, not the other way around.
"This is about B.C. Housing coming to us," he said, adding non-profits seem to expect the city "to go to the province, hat in hand."
Coun. Pietro Calendino brought up the Elizabeth Fry Society housing project proposed for Hastings Street in 2009, which had its funding fall through.
The mayor and councillors also found the timeline for the project unrealistic.
While Coun. Nick Volkow said he supported the project, he said the timeline doesn't allow for adequate public consultation.
"We can't get this done in 60 days," he said. "If we did it without consultation, it would be a lose-lose (situation)."
But council agreed to send the report on the project back to staff, to include clear parameters of what the city would require from such a project. These requirements would form a policy that could be referred to by any organization with a social housing proposal.
Council discussed what should be included in the report, particularly the specifics of the city's requirements, but ultimately it was left to staff to include the concerns brought up at the meeting.
The Portland Hotel Society's proposed project would convert the 35 units at the motor inn into 30 to 32 units of supported housing, with different scenarios presented regarding what level of supported housing could be available.
But ultimately, Corrigan said changing the zoning for the property in that neighbourhood isn't something he supports.
"I don't think taking a motor inn and converting it into transitional housing is a good idea," he said.
Basil Luksun, the city's director of engineering, said staff could likely have the revised report ready for the next council meeting in two weeks.
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