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Cities have new tool to protect rental housing

Municipalities in British Columbia have been given a new tool to protect and encourage rental housing. But city councils in the Tri-Cities have yet to decide how they’ll deploy it.
Municipalities in B.C. that are trying to protect or attract rental housing have a new tool in their arsenal.

Municipalities in British Columbia have been given a new tool to protect and encourage rental housing.

But city councils in the Tri-Cities have yet to decide how they’ll deploy it.

July 3, the NDP provincial government passed amendments to the Local Government Act that give municipalities the authority to zone for rental housing in areas where multi-family residential use is permitted.

They can also require a certain number, portion or percentage of housing units in a building to be rental units.

At its meeting July 24, Port Moody council passed a rental protection policy that gives preference for redevelopment applications of existing rental buildings with six or more units that will replace those units with the same number and type of rental apartments.

The policy will also allow the city to encourage the development of new rental housing by requiring developers of multi-family projects that need rezoning to include a portion of affordable rental or ownership units or pay into the city’s affordable housing reserve fund. The city can also offer incentives like relaxing parking requirements or increased density to encourage rental or affordable housing.

Coun. Zoe Royer said the policy is a “good start” that will help prevent renovictions, but “we can look at deeper measures in terms of zoning rental.”

Coun. Diana Dilworth said the new legislation gives the city “an opportunity… to zone those lands to say this is where we want to have permanent rental.

“I think it’s a valuable conversation we should have,” she added.

In Port Coquitlam, council recently adopted a staff recommendation to consider a rental housing policy, including the option to apply the new legislation, as part of its 2019 work program.

Coquitlam is also looking at the new provincial legislation around rental zoning, said Jim McIntyre, the city's general manager of planning.

There are pros and cons to rental zoning, he said, noting developers may be reticent to lock themselves into the land use permanently. Rental markets may be booming today, he said, but that has not always been the case, and there could be fears in the development community that rental zoning could reduce property values.

But reduced land costs may appeal to some organizations in the non-profit sector that may be able to operate co-ops and social housing initiatives with lower property taxes and operating costs, he added. 

"To them, that might be a worthy tradeoff," McIntyre said, later adding: "If the property is worth less, presumably the property taxes are lower and the operating costs are lower."

But he said Coquitlam is "a little bit ahead of the curve" when it comes to rental housing after the city passed its Affordable Housing Strategy in 2015. The document incentivizes developers to build market rental housing and partner with non-profits and community organizations to provide below-market housing.

As of the beginning of 2018, the Affordable Housing Strategy has led the creation of 2,475 rentals and 166 subsidized rentals, according to a city staff report. 

All these plans come after Burnaby became the first B.C. municipality to declare its intention to develop a bylaw to protect rental units. That city lost 712 rental units between 2010 and 2017, many of them in the Metrotown area. 

Burnaby council also asked staff to include a provision that any redevelopment of rental buildings also include non-market or social housing.

As part of its effort to protect rental housing, Port Moody council also adopted a policy requiring developers file a relocation plan for tenants being displaced by the redevelopment of a rental building with six or more units. Such a plan must include: at least two months notice to end tenancies; financial compensation based on length of tenancy that can include free rent or a lump sum payment, or a combination of both; assistance to help tenants find new accommodations; help covering moving expenses; and the right of first refusal for existing tenants to move back into the new building with a 20% discount on market rents.

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with files from Janis Cleugh, Gary McKenna and Kelvin Gawley

Aug 3: An earlier version of the story had an incorrect date for the Port Moody council meeting.