A rundown hotel and recycled shipping containers got a new lease on life as affordable housing for women fleeing violence in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The project was developed over four years by Atira Women’s Resource Society, a non-profit organization that provides supportive housing for women.
The first component of the project, Imouto Housing for Young Women, involved retrofitting the hotel into transitional housing for 18 young women aged 16 to 24 already living in the area. “All have experienced significant trauma,” explained Janice Abbott CEO of Atira. “They may be couch surfing or living in hotels and may be involved with people who are dangerous to them.”
The second component is the recycled shipping container project, which opened in August 2013. Two three-storey buildings were created from shipping containers that were dropped in by crane and reconfigured on site. The buildings have 12 self-contained studio apartments, each measuring about 280 square feet in size.
“In the recycled shipping container housing we will house women who have some skills and the desire to work with and mentor young women. And they will work directly with the young women next door [at Imouto Housing] through our intergenerational mentorship program,” explained Abbott.
The idea for Imouto Housing for Young Women came about in 2009, when Abbott thought of renovating the hotel, which was for sale at that time. “Imouto” is a Japanese word meaning “little sister.”
“It’s huge that Atira has offered me this very safe place to come and live and to see that somebody had faith in me. Now I get to be somewhere safe and get to make different choices,” said Rochelle Poirier, a mentor and resident of the shipping container project.
Reusing old shipping containers helped reduce construction costs. “We live in a port city, so the recycled shipping containers are readily available. They’re inexpensive, and they hasten the building of the project,” explained Abbott.
The construction costs for the two projects were $3.3 million. The Government of Canada, through CMHC, contributed $2.4 million through the Shelter Enhancement Program. The Government of British Columbia, through BC Housing, and the City of Vancouver also provided assistance. Four of the containers were donated, two by BC Hydro and two by private citizens, for an approximate value of $20,000.
“The end result has exceeded our expectations. This is housing that I think anybody would be thrilled to live in,” said Abbott.