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Dozens of tenants at North Van's Travelodge supportive housing site face eviction

About 35 vulnerable people say they’ve been left with few options after being told they need to leave the temporary supportive housing site in North Vancouver by the end of May
Paul Stegavig along with other residents in supportive housing at the former Travelodge motel on Marine Drive in North Vancouver face eviction at the end of May as the property is to be redeveloped. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

A group of about 35 tenants who have been living in temporary supportive housing at the former Travelodge site on North Vancouver’s Marine Drive say they’ve been given to the end of May to leave their homes – and many still don’t know where they’ll go.

Paul Stegavig is one of those tenants. He found himself homeless a few years ago after losing his former rental unit to a renoviction. Health problems eventually landed him in hospital, as well as on the street. Staff at the North Shore shelter managed to get him a place in the temporary housing at the former Travelodge site, where he’s been living since April 2023.

But at the end of January, tenants living at the site got notice the housing would likely be closing at the end of May to make way for re-development of the site. In addition, not everyone would be likely to find alternate housing on the North Shore, the notice warned, because there aren’t enough government-subsidized housing units available.

The notice was a shock, said Stegavig, because tenants had been under the impression the lease on the property had been renewed last fall for at least another year.

In recent months, some former tenants of the Travelodge site who are Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) members have moved into a new supportive housing project opened nearby on Nation land. According to BC Housing, four former Travelodge tenants moved to the Squamish Nation housing. But about three dozen people have been left without any good options, said Stegavig.

Site has unusual history

The supportive housing at the former motel site has an unusual history.

Part of the motel was quietly put into use as a shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. That’s when the province began to rent hotel rooms in a few communities to help provide more space for people who would otherwise be living in crowded emergency shelters or not have anywhere to isolate when they became ill.

Later the project changed from an offshoot of the shelter to a supportive housing model, where tenants recommended by agencies that work with people experiencing homelessness are provided long-term housing along with meals and other programs.

The Travelodge housing began with 21 rooms, which eventually expanded to all 61 rooms at the site. BC Housing has been paying $1.5 million annually towards the operating costs of the supportive housing, run by the Lu’ma Native Housing Society, on top of the lease.

The site also found itself embroiled in controversy in October, when West Vancouver–Capilano MLA Karin Kirkpatrick raised questions in the B.C. Legislature about neighbourhood complaints about the site.

Highrise towers to be built

Both BC Housing and the Lu’ma society were aware the site was temporary and would only be available until the developer of the property decided to move forward with their project, initially approved with a rezoning in 2022.

No demolition permit for the Travelodge building has been issued yet, according to the District of North Vancouver, but the municipality has received a development application which is in the preliminary stages of review. The IBI Group plans to build a combination of rental apartments and strata in several buildings including a 27-storey tower, a nine-storey tower, a four-storey building and adjacent townhouses.

The initial term of the BC Housing’s lease with the property owner was up in November. Most tenants had expected that lease to be renewed for another year, said Stegavig.

But instead, the lease on the property was only renewed for six months – until May 31 – something tenants only learned at the end of January.

In a statement, BC Housing said it is working with the Lu’ma Native Housing Society and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association to find alternative shelter and housing options for those still living at the Travelodge site.

“It has been challenging to source an available alternate location in North Vancouver to temporarily lease or purchase. While our priority is to help residents find a new home in the community, it may not be possible to find all displaced residents housing on the North Shore,” the housing agency said in a statement.

Stegavig said he hasn’t been given a lot of reason for hope.

“There’s not enough supportive housing to accommodate all of us, right?” he said. “So, some of us will get places. But some of us might have to go to the street.”

Being forced to move to a neighbourhood like the Downtown Eastside wouldn’t be great for many people whose supports like medical services and friends are on the North Shore, he said.

“So, it’s been causing stress for a lot of people.”

Eviction leaves resident with ‘no hope’

Amir Zkhatib is another tenant in the housing site who says he doesn’t know what he’ll do after May 31.

When Zkhatib’s health problems landed him in hospital for several months, he discovered his landlord had sold the home he had been living in on East First Street. A social worker at Lions Gate Hospital connected him with mental health services, which found him a unit at the Travelodge, which Zkhatib said has been a lifesaver.

When he got the recent eviction notice, Zkhatib said he’d just been discharged from GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre after a surgery at Vancouver General Hospital.

“I’m not working,” he said. “I’m on disability. There are lots of people here who had the same problem.”

Zkhatib said it would be disastrous for him to leave the North Shore as all his medical services are in North Vancouver. He said he has no idea what he’ll do after May 31.

“I have absolutely no hope whatsoever,” he said. “I have no idea how it’s going to go down.”

Originally the hope was residents in the temporary site would be able to move to the Keith Road supportive housing project in North Vancouver once it’s built.

In September, the Ministry of Housing announced plans to build a 65-unit, six-storey building on the northeast corner of Keith Road and Mountain Highway, which will also be operated by the Lu’ma Native Housing Society. The District of North Vancouver council recently approved that project, following a marathon public hearing. But the project is far from being built.

Mike Walker, a lawyer who acts as a spokesperson for the Lu’ma society, said the society hasn’t been involved in any of the discussions between BC Housing and the developer and is "as unhappy as anyone to be moving people out.”

Tenants are being given the option of moving to other Lu’ma housing, he said, but some don’t want to leave the North Shore. “It’s really a bad situation for some of these people,” he said.

“I think it’s a darned shame. It’s going to be a real hardship for a number of residents.”