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British Columbia Housing non-profit Brightside to replace five buildings in Vancouver with larger ones

Vancouver’s largest non-profit housing operator is planning to tear down five of its buildings and replace them with larger ones to cope with the city’s continuing housing crunch.

The move by Brightside Community Homes Foundation, which has provoked alarm from some tenants, but hope for more modern buildings from others, would double the number of apartments on those sites from 232 to more than 450.

Carolina Ibarra, the director of strategic initiatives for Brightside, said all tenants will be offered apartments in other Brightside buildings or other non-profits with whom Brightside is collaborating over the approximately two years of preparation for redevelopment.

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It’s the kind of development that city planners hope will help to fill the huge shortfall in Vancouver for new homes that can be rented to its many lower-income residents.

“The community-housing sector is a fundamental partner to ending the city’s housing crisis,” said Abi Bond, Vancouver’s managing director of homelessness services and affordable-housing initiatives. Brightside is the first to go public with an ambitious redevelopment plan, but Ms. Bond said there are about four others preparing to do something similar.

Brightside, founded in 1952, has 26 buildings in Vancouver. Because it has operated for so long, many of its properties are mortgage-free, giving it more financial flexibility.

As a result, unlike other non-profits and co-ops that struggle to reserve even a small proportion of their apartments at the lowest rental rates, Brightside rents only about 10 per cent of its units at close to market rates, with $2,300 being the maximum.

The rest are rented for rates as low as $180 a month, with most apartments rented at 30 per cent of the income for households with less-than-average earnings. About 70 per cent of the tenants are seniors.

“The need is huge and we have all these properties we can leverage,” Brightside chief executive William Azaroff said.

Brightside will mostly self-finance the redevelopments, but has one large provincial commitment for one building and is hoping for money for a second, along with other smaller grants from the city and federal government.

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The news about the plans for one of the buildings, the Alice Saunders House in east-side Vancouver, had set off fears from some tenants. The Vancouver Tenants Union, advocating for them, said many are elderly and are worried about losing their familiar apartments, their neighbourhoods and their connections.

But one tenant at that building said he welcomes the change.

“If people here are planning to stay until they’re 90, this place is not going to make the cut,” said Edward Fontaine, a 64-year-old who is partly retired and partly continuing with his work of providing support for people with mental and physical disabilities.

Edward Fontaine, who is in favour of a renovation, is photographed in his suite at the Alice Saunders House in Vancouver, on July 11, 2019.

Rafal Gerszak

Mr. Fontaine said his building doesn’t have an elevator and the hallways aren’t wide enough for scooters, just two of the many problems with an older building that wasn’t designed for accessibility.

He said he’s pleased so far with what he’s heard about the arrangements.

“They’re going to relocate me and then invite me back at the same rent. What’s not to like?”

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Besides Mr. Fontaine’s building, the others included in the redevelopment plans are two buildings near 12th Avenue and Clark Drive that will be combined into one new larger one with 160 apartments, instead of the current 86; a building in the Marpole neighbourhood that will go from 46 to 83 apartments; and one in Mount Pleasant that will be increased from 36 to 80 units.

The Brightside foundation will have to go through rezonings for all of them, but Ms. Ibarra said she hopes they won’t generate the kind of opposition other new buildings have seen recently in Vancouver because they are already known in the communities where they operate.

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