Renters who are displaced by new development should get double the compensation they do now from builders – up to 24 months’ worth of rent for long-term tenants – and more help finding new apartments, especially if they are vulnerable, says a recommendation from Vancouver city staff.
But the report going to council next Tuesday does not go as far as some of Vancouver’s neighbouring suburbs, where new councils have beefed up protective measures recently as they grapple with a housing crisis that has seen hundreds of renters in the region displaced by renovations or new development.
The policy recommended for Vancouver doesn’t require developers to allow previous tenants to move back into new units at their old rents, as Burnaby’s new policy does. And it doesn’t tie improper “renovictions” to possible loss of a business licence, as New Westminster’s does.
A second Vancouver staff report recommends the city use $5.6-million from its empty-homes-tax revenue to create a “renters centre” that would put under one roof renter-advocacy groups, the province’s residential-tenancy office and city staff as a resource for the half of the city population that rents.
“It’s to show renters that we have their backs,” Mayor Kennedy Stewart said. “I feel this is going to help push developers away from older buildings.”
But council’s strongest renter advocate, COPE’s Jean Swanson, says she’s disappointed the staff recommendations aren’t stronger.
“I wish we could have been bolder like New Westminster and Burnaby,” she said. “There is a lot of stuff in [the reports] that is accepting what the landlords say at face value.”
Ms. Swanson prefers a proposal to work with the province to create a new law stipulating that landlords can’t raise rents dramatically in between tenants.
“It would take the profit motive out of evictions.”
In B.C. currently, landlords are restricted in raising rents to a provincially stipulated cost-of-living percentage as long as the same tenant is in a unit. But the landlord can raise the rent when there is turnover.
As well, Ms. Swanson would like to see Vancouver adopt what Burnaby now has as policy – any tenant who has to move out of a building being redeveloped has to be offered a unit of the same size at the same old rent in the new building.
Developers and landlords were quick to criticize that Burnaby policy after it was approved last month, saying it would likely lead to less development and fewer new rental units because the costs would be too high to meet all of the city’s requirements.
The Vancouver staff report says planners will monitor Burnaby’s policy ideas and see how they play out in the coming months, but that it seemed too risky to require developers to house former tenants in new units at rents they were paying before.
“This was identified as one of the most significant potential financial challenges to creating new rental housing,” the report said.
Vancouver has seen 589 of its older apartment units demolished in the past 10 years for new developments. Those developments created 1,350 new units, but at rents much higher than the lost units.
The spiralling cost of real estate has meant that many more people arriving in the city are renting, which has put noticeable pressure on the city’s rental stock from the 1960s and 1970s. The report notes that three-quarters of the net new arrivals to Vancouver between 2011 and 2016 became renters, compared with only 41 per cent in the previous five years.
Since 2007, Vancouver has had controls on demolitions of those older apartment buildings, including a requirement for one-to-one replacement and some compensation money for displaced tenants.