Skip to main content

When developer Hani Lammam looked recently at buying three houses together in East Vancouver for redevelopment into an apartment building, the first question he had was whether the people living in them were owners or tenants.

They were owners. So Mr. Lammam, executive vice-president of Cressey Development Group, kept moving forward with the potential deal.

Vancouver-area developers say they are making similar calculations as city councils are requiring increasingly higher compensation for tenants if a redevelopment – no matter how many new units are added or how reasonable the future rent – is going to displace existing renters.

Story continues below advertisement

In Vancouver, several projects have teetered close to being rejected altogether by city council, while others get waved off long before any councillor knows about them.

“It’s one of the first questions from us when someone comes in with an idea: Are there tenants on site and do you know what are the new requirements,” said Dan Garrison, Vancouver’s assistant director of housing policy. “We don’t have numbers, but we are definitely noticing changes.”

If developers needed any more warning signs, a recent controversial proposal in the city’s typically more affordable Marpole area – which proposed to replace an old 43-unit building where some rents were as low as $1,000 a month with a new one of 91 units – was approved by only a 5-4 vote.

That happened after the owner went way past new city requirements to ensure that a housing relocator would find affordable units for low-income tenants moving out, as well as providing up to two years worth of rent for long-term tenants. The owner added a last-minute offer that tenants who wanted to return to the new building would be able to rent at 40 per cent below the market rate. (The city requires only a 20-per-cent discount.)

Burnaby has introduced strict new measures to prevent or mitigate displacement and stringent monitoring, after several years of increasing public alarm about the number of older, low-cost apartments being torn down around Metrotown and replaced by condo towers.

In at least one recent redevelopment proposal, staff called every tenant in an apartment scheduled for demolition to double-check what they had been offered by the builder.

New Westminster and Coquitlam also have stronger displacement-mitigation measures than they used to.

Story continues below advertisement

One major Vancouver developer saw which way the wind was blowing several years ago and decided that the company would no longer buy any sites with existing tenants in apartments.

“A few years ago, it was becoming apparent that displacement was an issue and it was, in general, something we didn’t feel comfortable with,” said Tim Grant, a vice-president at PCI Developments, which has built major residential and commercial projects in Vancouver and Surrey recently.

“We feel the way to move forward was creating new supply where it didn’t exist.”

PCI currently has a proposal for a two-tower complex with 212 apartments at the eastern border of Vancouver on Hastings Street under an experimental initiative in Vancouver that allows developers extra density for rental buildings if 20 per cent of the units are rented at defined below-market rates. It’s on a strip with one- and two-storey commercial buildings with no apartments above.

The new wariness about displacing tenants, though, comes with some unintended consequences.

Mr. Lammam said if Cressey moves ahead with buying the three houses in East Vancouver, then he has to decide whether to rent them out during the long wait to get council approval for a new project – and then face the possibility of councillors concerned about displacement voting against it.

Story continues below advertisement

“It’s an issue,” he said.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter