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Province acquires shuttered Vancouver SRO, says building will reopen in 'spring 2025'

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A little over 13 months after a fire displaced 39 residents from a single-room occupancy building in Vancouver's Chinatown, the provincial government has stepped in to return the now-vacant property to the city's low-income housing stock.

B.C.'s Ministry of Housing announced Tuesday that the province – through BC Housing – has acquired the 48-unit Keefer Rooms building, located at 218-222 Keefer St.

The building has been vacant since an explosion and fire on Sept. 9, 2022. Everyone who was inside got out safely, but the SRO units have not reopened.

The Housing Ministry framed Tuesday's announcement as the provincial government "preserving low-income housing in the Downtown Eastside."

The province will spend a total of $12 million on acquiring and renovating the building, with plans to reopen it in spring 2025.

Renovations will include "window replacements and electrical- and fire-system upgrades," the ministry said in a statement, adding that it had ordered an independent appraisal of the property that supported the purchase price.

CTV News has contacted the ministry to inquire about how much of the $12 million went toward acquiring the building and how much is earmarked for repairs. This story will be updated when a response is received.

"We know that people throughout the province are struggling to find housing and need more affordable options in their community," said Ravi Kahlon, B.C.'s minister of housing, in the ministry statement.

"By purchasing this property on Keefer Street, we are taking steps to prevent homelessness before it begins by preserving valuable low-income housing and partnering with organizations that will provide additional support to those who need it."

The Keefer Rooms building was constructed in 1912, according to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, which lists it as a heritage site due to its "contextual or character" significance.

When it reopens, the building will be operated by the Downtown Eastside Community Land Trust association, which will provide "some on-site programming support" for residents, including "food services support and harm reduction," according to the ministry.

"The Downtown Eastside Community Land Trust is dedicated to protecting property from the private market and championing community ownership in the DTES," said Norm Leech, chair of the association's board, in the ministry statement.

"At Keefer Rooms, we're working with community partners to create an innovative, holistic housing model that builds on and enhances the strengths of tenants and of the community."

Wendy Pederson, executive director of the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative, called the province's acquisition of the Keefer Rooms "exciting news" for tenants displaced by the fire, adding that some of them want to move back into the building.

The ministry says the purchase is part of a $19-billion investment in housing by the B.C. government, which it says has resulted in "nearly 77,000 homes that have been delivered or are underway" since 2017. 

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