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B.C. spends big to house homeless in Prince George

Per-key cost for an old hostel – plus necessary renos – is six times its assessed value and more than a buyer paid for the full-service Marriott Hotel a block from Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Prince George has a stubborn homeless problem and the B.C. government is spending big to find housing for “people experiencing homelessness” in the northern B.C. city.

Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Housing, reported November 1, 2023, that the province is spending $16.3 million to purchase an old hostel and a motel that together will provide more than 100 units of supportive housing.

The first is the Lotus Hostel at 197 Quebec Street, a 27-unit aging structure that BC Assessments valued this year at $786,500. BC Housing, however, is paying a total of $4.8 million, which includes $2.6 million in necessary repairs and upgrades. This works out to $177,777 per “key” in the language of the hotel industry.

As a comparison, according to the Colliers’ INNvestment Canada report on the national hotel industry for the third-quarter 2023, the “full service” Ottawa Marriott Hotel, a block from Parliament Hill in Canada’s capital, with an indoor pool and a selection of dining rooms, lounges and meeting spaces, sold for $176,900 per key.

The third quarter reflected a national hotel industry still struggling to recover from COVID-19, with transactions volumes plunging 71 per cent, quarter-to-quarter to $225 million, Colliers reported. The average per-key cost for a hotel sold in Canada was $172,600.

In Prince George, however, BC Housing also spent $119,791 per key, plus ongoing support, for the 96-room North Star motel at 1550 Victoria Street. That property has a BC Assessment value $3.7 million, with the building valued at just $337,400.

BC Housing paid $11.5 million for the North Star, and noted that the two-building complex will require renovations, which are expected to complete by next year. “To ensure people experiencing homelessness have access to a home sooner, essential renovations to both buildings will be accelerated, with the remaining renovations to occur after occupancy,” BC Housing explained.

Ongoing support for such housing includes 24/7 staffing, daily meals, employment support and referral to community services.

Not to be outdone, the City of Prince George recently paid $4.15 million for the 44-unit Knights Inn motel, which is currently assessed at $1.12 million. BC Housing  will also pay $47,250 per month to lease the Knights Motel to provide supportive housing for people living outside or in emergency shelters. BC Housing will be responsible, as well, for all capital and operational repairs to the property, payment of all property taxes and utilities charges and will cover any demolition fees if required.

Prince George has been attempting to limit homeless encampments in the city to one area, which locals refer to as Moccasin Flats, which has a current population estimated at from 30 to 50 people.