Province buys Paul’s Motor Inn to house homeless

The province of B.C. has bought the 75-room Paul’s Motor Inn on Douglas Street for about $15 million to add to its stock of temporary supportive housing for people without homes in Victoria.

It’s the second Victoria hotel B.C. has purchased this year to provide housing. Last month, it announced it had spent $18.5 million to buy the Comfort Inn and Suites at 3020 Blanshard St., which houses 93 people.

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As with the Comfort Inn purchase, the long-term plan for Paul’s is to redevelop the property into affordable housing.

At Paul’s Motor Inn, 40 new residents will join 35 who moved there in April.

“The purchase of this site will help support vulnerable people in the community and provide a safe place for those who don’t have a home,” Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson said in a statement Tuesday.

“Not only will this building deliver immediate relief and support to vulnerable people affected by the COVID-19 crisis, the site also offers permanent housing potential to help tackle the housing crisis and meet the needs of people in Victoria.”

Staff will be on site around the clock to provide security for residents and the neighbourhood, the province said.

B.C. Housing said it will set up a community advisory committee to help the new facility fit into the area and to deal with any concerns raised by neighbours. An experienced non-profit operator for Paul’s is expected to be chosen in coming weeks.

B.C. Housing put out a call last fall for potential operators for such facilities. Those organizations will be contacted with the aim of reaching an agreement to operate the new facility at Paul’s, said Heidi Hartman, B.C. Housing regional director of operations for Vancouver Island.

The cost of the contract will be negotiated as part of an agreement, Hartman said.

Once an operator is hired, B.C. Housing will begin moving people into the building, based on an assessment process, with the goal of providing individualized support for each resident.

Residents will have access to meals, health care, addictions treatment and harm reduction, plus storage for personal items.

Currently, a local restaurant is being contracted to provide takeout food, Hartman said.

The sale of the motel includes three commercial establishments — a diner, a lounge (both are currently not open) and an esthetics business. Hartman said B.C. Housing has met with the commercial tenants and left it up to them whether to stay. “We said we would love to have them continue their lease and be part of the community,” she said.

Also affected are the fewer than 20 employees working in the motel, who have been offered temporary employment until the operator comes in, Hartman said.

While the housing at Paul’s is referred to as temporary, Hartman said she does not have a timeline.

Given the size of the 1.3-acre site, there is an “opportunity for really exciting future development,” she said, adding that any development would include community engagement.

Shane Simpson, minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, said the Douglas Street location has “a great deal of potential to create a community, complete with health, mental health, addictions and social supports for people who need them most.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps welcomed the purchase, saying the city and province are working together to provide safety and security to vulnerable people in the city.

From late April to May 20, a total of 344 people were moved from encampments on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park into supportive housing under the Emergency Protection Act, enacted to deal with both the overdose crisis and pandemic.

The history of Paul’s Motor Inn

The business at 1900 Douglas St. was developed by Paul Arsens, who also owned the Inn at Laurel Point. He died in 1997.

Paul’s Drive-In was known in the 1950s for its car-hop service and a restaurant. Its 30-foot-tall plastic advertising sign was billed as the tallest of its kind, the hotel’s website says.

In 1971, Paul’s Motor Inn opened, followed by a courtyard addition in 1976 and an upstairs lounge in 1977. Major renovations have been carried out in recent years on the property. The hotel has 75 rooms, all with air conditioning.

The property faces Douglas and Chatham streets to the south and Discovery Street to the north.

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