When Guy Wakeman heard the the social housing complex where he lives with his two children would be sold, he felt worried and a little betrayed.
Mr. Wakeman moved into Stamps Place, a provincially owned and managed project in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, about four years ago, believing he and his family had found stable, affordable housing that would allow them to stay put for a decade or more. When he heard B.C. Housing had started the process of selling the complex as part of a larger divestment program, he worried his rent could go up or he might have to move if the property were redeveloped.
"It was like a security blanket was being taken away," Mr. Wakeman said on Tuesday. "Here's a nice secure place for us to live, and as soon as that [news of the sale] happened, all of that was gone, or that's what it felt like."
As of last week, Mr. Wakeman was breathing more easily, thanks to an announcement from B.C. Housing that it has selected preferred candidates for two Vancouver housing sites: the New Chelsea Society for Stamps Place and the Bloom Group for Nicholson Tower, a 20-storey building in the West End. Both New Chelsea and the Bloom Group have previous experience with B.C. Housing.
In announcing the short-listed candidates, B.C. Housing said new ownership and management would not affect tenants at the buildings and that the number of units – 598 – would remain unchanged. That was in line with reassurances the Crown corporation has provided since last fall, when it put out a request for expressions of interest in the two projects.
Details of long-term operating agreements are still being negotiated, and prices for the transactions have not yet been disclosed.
But Mr. Wakeman, who is president of a tenants' council formed after the province issued its call for proposals, is encouraged by B.C. Housing's reassurances and the background of New Chelsea, which runs 19 properties in the Lower Mainland – although up to this point, none in the Downtown Eastside.
"I believe New Chelsea was one of the better ones, just because of their experience with families and seniors," Mr. Wakeman said.
Stamps Place, which consists of two towers and several low-rise apartment buildings, features two- and three-bedroom units and some apartments that have up to five bedrooms.
Such family-oriented housing is in short supply in Vancouver, where the apartment vacancy rate was 1.4 per cent in April, down from 1.8 per cent in April, 2014, according to the most recent rental report from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
If the deal for Stamps Place goes through, the project will be New Chelsea's biggest operation. "Through working through B.C. Housing we have grown our portfolio – we're about 1,056 units – and this was an opportunity to expand our portfolio even further and grow our capacity," New Chelsea executive director Patrick Buchannon said.
B.C. Housing announced last year that it would transfer ownership of up to 350 Provincial Rental Housing Corp. lands to the non-profit societies that own and operate buildings on the sites. B.C. Housing also said it would sell two projects it owned and operated – Stamps Place and Nicholson Tower – as part of the same process.
Non-profit groups like the idea, saying that owning, rather than leasing, their properties will give them more capacity to build, develop and operate housing projects because they would have more access to financing.
That rationale has been a concern for residents like Mr. Wakeman, who worried a new owner might redevelop Stamps Place at a higher density or even subdivide and sell the site, which is in a neighbourhood where property prices are on the upswing. Property values in the Downtown Eastside have increased by 303 per cent between 2001 and 2013, according to a social impact assessment filed last year as part of the Downtown Eastside Plan.
Mr. Buchannon said a long-term operating agreement would require current housing to be maintained. "We are committed to long-term housing to continue the property as it is now," he said.