I've walked by the building on my way to work nearly every day since the renovation began. A wholly unremarkable grey stucco, three-storey walk-up at the corner of Keefer and Heatley in Strathcona, raised and perched – rather precariously for a time – on an arrangement of stacked timber.
To my untrained eye, it seemed that extraordinary measures were being taken to preserve the building when it would have made more sense to knock it down and start from scratch. But it apparently had some heritage value, which incentivized renovation rather than demolition. The building next door – also unremarkable – ended up being corralled by the same blue fence and became part of the project.
Over the past year it became clear that this was no renovation – the buildings ended up being gutted from the inside out – until a single rear wall was all that remained. The project is now nearing completion.
Some history: the buildings were listed by commercial realtor Avison Young as a "Tremendous value-add opportunity with below market rents and the ability to add additional units."
They were assessed at just over $1.9-million in 2016 – jumping nearly half a million dollars in value from the previous year.
They were bought by the M1 Group – a West Vancouver developer that, according to its website "builds positive rental communities."
Among the tenants displaced – or as they themselves put it, "renovicted" following the sale, were artists and entrepreneurs, some of whom had gone to great lengths to fix up and maintain their suites.
In an agreement with the city, the developer is obliged to offer units first to those tenants who were kicked out at a 20-per-cent discount for the first year. I doubt there will be any takers.
A few days ago, an ad appeared on Craigslist announcing that 30 new apartments in the buildings would be available to rent beginning in August. Applicants are invited to add their names to a waiting list. The rent? $1,700 for a 400-square-foot "micro suite." The tiny apartments include in-suite laundry, a stove, microwave and a mini fridge. There's also a gym, a rooftop patio and a bike-storage area. One of the selling points listed is that the building is right across the street from an elementary school. Think about that.
The listing was posted on Twitter (yes, I retweeted it) and was followed – not surprisingly – by a wave of outrage, incredulity, snark and disgust.
The Craigslist post vanished the following day and a virtually identical but fake one appeared listing the apartments at $7,000. Point made.
These aren't the first micro suites in the city and they certainly won't be the last. Years ago, when micro suites were first proposed, I recall one Vancouver city councillor encouraging me to think of it as "cruise-ship-style living." Seriously.
It's also not the first case of long-term tenants being renovicted. It happened around the corner on East Georgia Street in a building known throughout the neighbourhood as Bad Manors. Go have a look at what's going on Burnaby – where whole blocks of serviceable and affordable walk-ups are being razed to build condos. It's happening everywhere. Don't even get me started about Little Mountain.
So what is it that sparked such outrage in this case? Probably that spending $1,700 for 400 square feet sounds ridiculous. In the context of where the rental market is right now, I'm sorry to say it's not – especially for the location. But the building is emblematic of just how bad this city's rental market has become. It speaks to the desperation and the hopelessness of renters – especially those who have kids. And I can't help but think that landlords in the neighbourhood are watching what's happening and wondering just how much more they could ask for the next time a new tenant moves in.
While the housing crisis has become an issue in the provincial election campaign, no one is offering much to fix it.
Ask John Horgan about renters and he'll tell you that the NDP will give them an annual cheque for $400. Renters can spend that $1.10 per day however they please.
Ask Christy Clark about renters and she'll tell you that she wants to help people buy homes, with no acknowledgment that for a huge slice of the population, buying anything is never going to be an option.
And then there's the City of Vancouver. For all of the talk of affordable housing, for middle-income renters, the situation becomes more dire each year.
I know that turning talk into action is complicated and expensive but with respect, put up or shut up. Face the fact that this city's a mess.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.