Lisa Chark thought she had gone to housing heaven two years ago when she was chosen for a new subsidized rental unit in Vancouver being built as part of a city experiment in how to create low-cost housing.
But then her move-in to the townhouse near the Fraser River was delayed once, twice and, eventually, five times. Last month, when it was bumped again to September from July, she was in despair because she had run out of landlord flexibility on her current apartment and had to be out by June 30.
She thought she would be forced into living in her car. Then, the non-profit housing group that had offered her the unit said that she would temporarily get to move into another project nearby, part of Vancouver’s Community Land Trust experiment in providing housing, while she waits for her new home to be completed.
But she still feels as though her life is in limbo with so much uncertainty continuing to swirl around the Tikva Housing Society 32-townhouse project that was originally supposed to be occupied in December, 2018.
“I just want it to be over. I’m freaking out. I’m 60 years old and I don’t have a permanent home,” she said, choking up with frustration and fear as she described her situation.
Housing projects are known for delays, but the problem has gotten much worse recently for both private and non-profit projects, as builders struggle with labour shortages, delays in getting materials, increasingly inexperienced work crews and more in what was a very hot market, say some from the developer industry.
“It’s anywhere from two-months to 12-months delay now,” said Jon Stovell, the chair of the Urban Development Institute. “It’s always been challenging to finish on time but it’s gotten a lot worse in the last couple of years.”
Many buyers are experiencing that.
Jeff McCarthy, who works in biotech, and his wife bought in an eight-unit heritage-house-and-laneway development in December, 2017, with a promised move-in date of March this year. That’s been pushed back and he still doesn’t know when they might move in.
But, unlike Ms. Chark, he has the resources to continue renting a nearby condo indefinitely.
For people in subsidized housing, the delays have a much bigger impact on both them and the non-profit groups trying to provide desperately needed low-cost units.
“It’s been really, really sad,” said Alice Sundberg, the executive director for Tikva, which has been scrambling to help out others in similar situations to Ms. Chark’s. “We would never have marketed and tenanted these units if we knew this would happen. These are the tenants who don’t have a lot of options. There are quite a few people in dire straits.”
The society has negotiated for up to half a dozen tenants, including Ms. Chark, to be able to move into the co-op tower project that is part of the four properties that the Community Land Trust has been developing on city land. The trust project is a unique experiment the city launched in 2014, where a group of non-profits and co-ops is building on the four sites with a mix of high-end market rentals, co-ops and low-cost housing meant to be subsidized internally by the other rentals.
It took a long time to get the developments going because of long negotiations at the city over exactly how this experiment would work, but the first building on Kingsway opened last year and another project near the Fraser River opened earlier this year. The Tikva project is partially built but not legally ready for occupancy yet.
The man who has been overseeing the land trust developments acknowledged the overall project has had some problems.
“We got caught in the squeeze of a very tough labour market and the supply chain,” said Thom Armstrong, chief executive of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. “As tough as the market is for developers, it’s tougher for low-income tenants.”