It’s no secret that Vancouver is facing a housing crunch – with demand for homes and apartments far outstripping supply, especially among low-income residents. Now, officials have come up with an especially creative solution.
A former prison in the heart of the city’s Downtown Eastside has been transformed into a complex of nearly 100 new apartments.
The Vancouver Remand Centre at 250 Powell St. once held some of the province’s most notorious criminals as they awaited trial. The 400-bed facility was closed in 2002 and, up until recently, sat empty and unused – a vacant concrete hull near the heart of the city.
But a just-completed $20-million renovation project has transformed the facility into 96 low-income housing units for Downtown Eastside residents. Windowless prisoner cells have been converted into modern bachelor and one-bedroom suites with plenty of natural light. The prison gym is now a common area, while the old prison yard has been turned into a community garden, according to an article in the Vancouver Sun.
The new residential facility will be run by the local non-profit the Bloom Group. Housing will be shared among low-income adults with jobs, women transitioning out of emergency shelters and Aboriginal youth in a unique program called BladeRunners. Started in 1994, BladeRunners teaches construction and life skills to people struggling to get on their feet and build a foundation for a new life.
The downstairs of the building is already home to a unique community court that serves the Downtown Eastside. Opened in 2008, the court is set up to deal with small-time offenders who often suffer from complicating conditions like mental illness or drug addiction. Emphasis is on treatment and counselling, rather than just punishment. A six-year trial period showed a significant reduction in offenders committing new offences.
Residents are scheduled to begin moving into the new apartments later this month, and roughly two-thirds of units are already spoken for. For low-income residents living and working in the Downtown Eastside, rents will range from $375-$875 per month.