The possible sale of a provincially owned social-housing complex in Vancouver is popping up as a civic election concern, with some candidates saying such a sale could put tenants at risk of rent hikes or even eviction.
Earlier this month, the province issued a request for expressions of interest for the purchase of Stamps Place, a 375-unit social-housing complex in the Downtown Eastside, saying the sale was part of a previously announced strategy to shift from owning and operating social housing to "empowering" non-profit groups to take over those roles.
B.C. Housing is also seeking prospective buyers for Nicholson Towers, a high-rise social-housing project in the West End.
COPE mayoral candidate Meena Wong chose Stamps Place as the site for a Wednesday news conference to announce a housing strategy, which includes a City Housing Authority and "registration" fees for developers.
"There is just not enough public housing in Vancouver," Ms. Wong said at the event, adding that "selling it [public housing] off to private organizations isn't going to help."
According to the request for expressions of interest, the sale price for Stamps Place would be about $50.5-million, in line with the 2014 assessed value of the property.
The documents say "it is in the intent of B.C. Housing to maintain the sense of community and service levels already experienced at this location," adding that the "transfer of this property and others will allow non-profit housing providers the opportunity to leverage these assets."
In an Oct. 21 blog post, Vision Councillor Geoff Meggs said B.C. Housing's "sudden" October 3 announcement – in which it updated its asset-transfer program – was "causing a wave of concern in the affordable-housing sector, particularly at two Vancouver locations already out for 'expressions of interest.'"
The city's surprise is "disingenuous" given that a recent neighbourhood plan mentioned infill or redevelopment of existing social-housing sites, including Stamps Place, said Green Party of Vancouver council candidate Pete Fry.
In response to recently voiced concerns, B.C. Housing has said tenants' rents – set according to provincial assistance rates – would not increase if the buildings changed hands.
The two sites are suitable for non-profit management because "they both have good tenants, sound administration and well-maintained buildings," a B.C. Housing representative said in an e-mail.
Non-profit groups already run the vast majority of social-housing projects around the province.
Tose groups would benefit if their current lease agreements changed to ownership agreements, says Tony Roy, executive director of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association.
"There are lots of different options that come with the opportunity to own the land and own the building," Mr. Roy said, citing the ability to borrow against the land to get funds to renovate aging housing units.
"Eventually, every [social housing] building will need repairs and updating, and when that happens, I want my members to have as many tools as possible to go about financing that," he said.
Currently, the province leases about 350 parcels of land throughout the province to non-profit operators.
Under the transfer program, about 115 of those are slated to be transferred by March 31, 2015, with the rest to be transferred over the next three years.