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Two Coquitlam co-ops are first for Rental Protection Fund cash

Katie Maslechko, CEO of the Rental Protection Fund, said the Coquitlam buildings are the first of many announcements to come for the agency.

Two housing co-ops close to Coquitlam Centre mall are the first in the province to receive money from B.C.’s new Rental Protection Fund.

This morning, Feb. 8, Premier David Eby was at the Garden Court Co-op on Packard Avenue to dedicate up to $71 million from the $500-million fund to allow the Community Land Trust of B.C. to buy Garden Court, as well as its sister building across the street: the Tri-Branch Co-op.

Without the contribution, the 290 affordable units “would have been lost forever,” Eby said.

With B.C.’s housing minister Ravi Kahlon by his side, the premier said the Garden Court and Tri-Branch co-ops fell into an “unfortunate situation” when its land lease expired in October 2022.

After the lease ended, the co-ops were in lease-payment arrears and had incurred debt — putting the co-ops' future at risk, he said.

The two co-ops, which were built under a federal government program to support housing for middle-class earners, had a lease that “was put in place at a time when, ‘We’ll solve that problem down the road.’ Well, the problem arrived,” Eby said.

“When you’re in a housing crisis, the first thing you need to do to get out of it is to stop digging. We cannot afford to lose affordable rental housing like [these buildings].”

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said having a 40-year land lease for 60-year buildings wasn’t well thought out by Ottawa.

“The co-op is a wonderful form of housing, but the devil is in the details,” he said, noting Coquitlam granted $5.8 million from the city’s Affordable Housing Reserve Fund to protect the buildings with the Community Land Trust.

The mayor thanked the partners for providing stable housing for the tenants in the 290 units, calling the agreement “community building at its finest.”

“It certainly has been a lot of work to make sure that as Coquitlam started to develop its City Centre that projects like this weren’t left behind.”

Mary Raffan, president of the Garden Court Housing Co-op, was not at the news conference, but, in a release, she praised the co-op board for working “tirelessly for the past decade on a solution to save our housing co-op.”

“Today, we can finally have peace, knowing our homes are safe and secure for years to come,” she stated.

Added Jewels Cressman, president of Tri-Branch Housing Co-op, in the release: "Today, we celebrate the end of a very long period of fear and uncertainty among our members about having a place to call home. Our hearts are overflowing with gratitude for the tireless efforts of all those involved in the collaborative effort that enabled Community Land Trust to purchase the two properties and save our homes."

Katie Maslechko, CEO of the Rental Protection Fund, said the Coquitlam buildings are the first of many announcements to come for the agency; already $150 million of the $500-million fund has been spent to safeguard and retain affordable properties, she said.

Asked by the Tri-City News if rents at the two buildings will rise, Tiffany Duzita, executive director of the Community Land Trust, confirmed they would; however, the increases would be tied to the tenants’ income, she said.

Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Community Land Trust, also told the Tri-City News an assessment management plan will be done on the two buildings: The Trust is budgeting about $21 million in structural repairs, including updating elevators, to extend the life of Garden Court and the Tri-Branch co-ops.

Eby said the provincial government taking steps to address the housing crisis in B.C — among them, legalizing secondary suites; reining in short-term rentals like AirBnBs; creating new rules for housing around transit hubs (and purchasing land near public transit stations); removing unfair strata restrictions that prevent units from being rented out; adding a speculation and vacancy tax; working with municipalities to build housing faster; and capping rent hikes below the rate of inflation.

“The government is going to be here to support British Columbians with the housing crisis,” Eby said.

“There are people who say we’d be better off if government got out of the way, but clearly in the housing crisis, government needs to be actively involved to ensure that people have the housing they actually can afford for themselves and their families.”