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Builders come to the aid of homeless during pandemic: BC Housing

Russell Hixson
Builders come to the aid of homeless during pandemic: BC Housing
MODULAR BUILDING INSTITUTE — A modular housing facility built by Dexterra (formerly Horizon North) was one way BC Housing partnered with the private sector to secure housing for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit B.C., people found themselves on the streets.

“Marginalized people were impacted most,” said Shayne Ramsay, CEO of BC Housing. “Women, women of colour, mothers of young children. And on top of the pandemic we are also dealing with the opioid overdose crisis where we lose hundreds every month to the toxic drug supply.”

For BC Housing, the crown corporation that develops and manages housing for low-income and at-risk British Columbians, it was a massive challenge that required creativity and partnerships with the private sector.

Ramsay detailed BC Housing’s pandemic efforts during a presentation at the BC Economic Development Association’s annual Economic Summit.

The group is one of the largest renovators and developers of housing in the province. This year it will invest $1 billion in housing and $140 million in renovations.

“During the first wave we secured 3,000 indoor spaces,” said Ramsay, explaining this was done by partnering with groups like Staples Business Advantage who helped provide shelter pods at an arena in Victoria. “It is much more dignified than just laying on a cot on the floor.”

BC Housing also partnered with the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness to open 12 temporary shelter spaces at a different location to provide culturally supportive services to Indigenous people who are experiencing homelessness. The group also worked with the hard-hit hospitality industry to use vacant hotel rooms.

“We know that bringing people inside is a more cost-effective alternative and also a moral one,” said Ramsay. “We can connect people to services easier than having to go under bridges, to encampments and other areas.”

Innovators in the construction sector have lent their expertise as well. BC Housing recently worked with Horizon North, which changed its name to Dexterra last year, to rapidly build housing.

“This was a great partnership that managed to shorten the delivery time,” said Ramsay. “Once the site was available and the permits were in place, from start to finish it took only three-and-a-half months until people were moving in.”

He noted while permits and discussions were underway, the modular production facility could already be working on building components to speed up timelines.

“This really highlights the innovation the private sector can bring,” said Ramsay. “This speeds up development so people can move in quicker. The stability that housing provides means folks can get on with other parts of their lives, like jobs, education or training.”

BC Housing is also the only provincial organization in Canada to work on housing on and off First Nations reserves. Ramsay explained Indigenous people are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and BC Housing has specific efforts that target those communities. Recently BC Housing announced plans to develop a master plan for səmiq̓wəʔelə (formerly known as Riverview Lands) in Coquitlam with input from the Indigenous community.

But the work isn’t always easy.

“One of our biggest challenges across B.C. is the approvals that we need,” said Ramsay. “We would like to call on the business community to work with us so we can get a better understanding, better relationships, so we can pull together in the same direction to advocate for these solutions and shorten processes.”

He also encouraged people to get involved in the development process by speaking in support of projects during community consultation.


Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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