Decaying for years, former Vancouver rooming house awaits rebirth

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      The red brick building at 5 West Hastings in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver has been empty for almost two decades.

      Built during the late 1890’s, the four-storey structure has a long relationship with the city and its early years. Its ground floor provided a space for various businesses, and its upper floors served as a hotel for single males working seasonal resource jobs.

      Known the Drexel Rooms Hotel until the 1990’s, the mixed-use building at the southern edge of Gastown later became the Canadian North Star. In 1999, its 31 rooms and the commercial floor were closed due to numerous infractions of city bylaws, with the building deemed unsafe for occupancy.

      In December 2014, council approved a single room accommodation conversion permit for Five West Hastings Holding Ltd. to renovate the rooms of the hotel into self-contained units with baths and kitchens.

      Close to a year later, council voted in September 2015 to give the developer a $50,000 grant to rehabilitate the façade of the building.

      The grant approval came a few months after city hall closed the submission of public comments on the company’s application for a development permit in order to begin work on building.

      Five West Hastings Holding Ltd. has proposed to restore the 31 rooms. Five of these will be secured for 30 years at the shelter rate designated by the province for welfare recipients. Fifty percent of the remaining units will be offered to tenants receiving rent supplements from government. The rest will rented out at market rates.

      According to Abigail Bond, director of housing policy and projects with the City of Vancouver, the developer has not yet been given a development permit.

      “The development permit has not yet been approved as they haven’t met all of their conditions on their housing agreement, and so they are not yet on site,” Bond told the Straight in a phone interview.

      A 2014 city staff report noted that the renewal of 5 West Hastings will increase the number of single occupancy rooms in the Downtown Eastside to 712 rooms.

      Bond said in the interview: “Obviously, it’s important that we’re using the housing stock that we have in the city, that it is being put to good use. So an empty building, we would much rather have an open building that’s renovated, where there’s been investment in the building, where units can be rented out to people who need a place to live. So it’s much better for us to see that.”