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Living above libraries, fire halls and schools? More housing options coming to B.C.

As the provincial government continues to promote its strategies to battle the housing crisis, city councils are slowly increasing what's been a rarity till now: non-market housing above public assets. 

From a Vancouver Island fire hall to a Kootenay city hall to a Vancouver elementary school, subsidized housing above community amenities is poised to see massive growth.

“That is the future,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon, who also encouraged mayors to pitch him on such projects last month.

“We need to use every opportunity that we can to find ways to build housing, to build health care, to build schools, to build child-care centres together because it means vibrant, healthy communities.” 

Vancouver city councillor Brian Montague called the idea a “no brainer” that’s been successful at Crosstown Elementary, a downtown school that uses a city park as its playground and is integrated with a condo-tower. 

“When we look at upgrading city infrastructure or replacing it, we have to integrate it with things like housing,” he said. “We also need to look at how do we get the entire continuum of housing built faster and more of it?”


In Vancouver’s tony Coal Harbour neighbourhood, a new elementary school under construction will be topped with a daycare, plus non-market rental housing, while Victoria opened a new multi-million-dollar fire hall, ambulance station and emergency operations centre that also features medical offices and 130 units of subsidized housing last month.

Even the tiny Kootenay community of Rossland has built its new city hall to a height of four storeys, with the upper levels housing 37 units of affordable rentals “targeted toward people with moderate and low incomes working in the hospitality, retail, and service industries in the city.” 

“If Rossland can do it and Victoria can do it – and those are two really differently sized cities with different needs, different populations, in different places in their evolution as communities – that, to me, is proof you can take this model and make it work anywhere,” said Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto.


One of Vancouver’s former chief planners – who now consults cities around the world on how to plan resilient, livable communities into the future – points out it's important to look at the idea as the limited contributor to the housing stock that it is, even if there’s wide scale uptake with incoming municipal infrastructure.

“Yes, we should do it, but it's probably one of 20 or 30 different ideas we're going to need to implement to make a dent on the size and nature of our housing challenge,” said Brent Toderian. “Density is our friend, vertical city-building is our friend, and good design to make it all work is our friend … and as we do vertical city-building, we have to think of that as being able to solve more than one problem..” 

Alto also pointed out that even with the city and province partnering for land and funding, there are still financing, design and other considerations that are complex and require close co-operation with private developers and builders.

“It's always hard to be the first, and I take pride in the fact Victoria often is,” she said. “If we're actually going to try to meet that demand in any way possible, we have to look at every conceivable way forward.” Top Stories

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