BC Housing has purchased the Burns Block in the Downtown Eastside, and will convert the micro suite building into housing for women experiencing homelessness.
The historic building was converted to micro lofts by Reliance Properties in 2007. Previous to that, the building served as an SRO, and was extremely rundown. The city ordered it closed due to safety concerns and all of the tenants were evicted, before it was sold to Reliance.
“I watched the decline and emergency closure of the Burns Block 15 years ago, leaving dozens of people homeless,” says David Eby, attorney general and minister responsible for housing. “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.”
The building was constructed in 1908-1909, and originally served as an office building. Reliance Properties converted it into micro lofts of approximately 250 square feet, with the aim of providing more affordable rentals.
Photos: Burns Block on the Downtown Eastside sold
The Burns Block was a success, fully leased and winning several awards for the restoration. However, the deteriorating situation in the neighbourhood over the past several years made it extremely difficult to retain tenants.
“Sadly, over the past 10 years since we completed Burns Block – the last 2 years in particular – the homeless situation on the Downtown Eastside worsened, compounded by the overdose crisis. The conditions on the streets became untenable for our tenants, half of whom moved out over the past several months citing dangerous conditions,” says Jon Stovell, president and CEO of Reliance Properties.
The Burns Block will add 30 studio units, plus commercial space, to be managed by Atira Women’s Resource Society.
“It is a bittersweet moment for us. 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,” says Stovell.
BC Housing paid $10.9 million for the property.