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.

VideoTranscript
Janice Abbott
Atira Women’s Resource Society and Atira Property Management
00:09 – 00:44

Atira Women’s resource society has been providing housing to women fleeing violence for almost 30 years.

There’s actually 2 components to this project. One is the original building, which has been here since 1912. In that building we’re housing young women who have been homeless, there are 18 rooms and it’s communal living. The second part of the project is the recycled shipping container component. There are 12 self-contained studio units here.

The units are affordable, the rent is affordable, it’s safe. Women are not only being able to interact with each other and look after each other but there’s also gates at the front and back and the units are self contained.

Rochelle Poirier
Resident
00:45 – 00:55

It’s huge that Atira has offered me this very safe place to come and live. Now I get to be somewhere that’s safe and get to make different choices and to see that somebody had faith in me.

Janice Abbott
00:56 – 01:25

The recycled shipping containers are readily available, they hasten the building of the project, and they’re inexpensive.

We know that because it’s been done in the city of Vancouver it will be easier to do in other municipalities and cities.

Given that Vancouver is a port city there are [sic] a huge supply of shipping containers available in our backyard.

We’re so grateful to the construction manager, to the city inspectors who stuck with us and at the end of the day made this work.

Without CMHC this project never would have been built. They provided $2.4 million through their Shelter Enhancement Program.

Text caption
01:26 – 01:33

The Shelter Enhancement Program was delivered by CMHC in British Columbia from 1995 to 2011 to provide funding for housing for victims fleeing family violence.

Tom Siems
CMHC
01:34 – 01:48

There’s 2 components, one is to develop brand new housing which is essentially shelters or second stage housing for families or individuals who are victims of violence. The other component is to do renovations to existing shelters.

Janice Abbott
01:49 – 02:04

One of the programs that we’ve incorporated into this development is an intergenerational mentorship program. 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.

Sharon Baptiste
Resident
02:05 – 02:26

I’m from Hobbema, Alberta, Cree Nation. I’m a part of the mentorship program for Atira. It’s going to give me an opportunity to show my culture.

This would be my first time living in an environment like this. I’m honoured to be moving in here.

Janice Abbott
02:27 – 02:42

Many of the women who will live here, it will have been many, many years since they had their own washroom, their own kitchen, you know, their own front door that they can shut and a place to call their own. So this project offers both that privacy and that safety.

Rochelle Poirier
02:43 – 02:49

I definitely have an amazing sense of safety here, just knowing I have they key - nobody can just wander in and out.

Janice Abbott
02:50 – 03:00

The end result has exceeded our expectations by more than I can express, it’s housing that I think anybody would be thrilled to live in.

Date Published: March 31, 2018