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Transition to a denser Vancouver has some renters worried

As city’s Broadway Plan moves forward, concerns rise over displacements.
The future for Broadway Plan renters increasingly depends on the success of the TRPP (tenant relocation and protection policy), and how the regulation will play out.

When the Broadway Plan was announced a year ago, the immediate concern for housing advocates was the plan to significantly densify 500 city blocks that contain one-quarter of Vancouver’s rental stock.

There are 1,291 purpose-built rental buildings within the area, and much of it is older buildings where rents tend to be more affordable and livable, according to Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program. Putting the renter population at risk of renovictions and demovictions raised eyebrows, with former senior city staffers such as Ralph Segal, Trish French, Cameron Gray and Nathan Edelson expressing concerns. But the city reacted by putting strict tenant protections in place.

Housing advocates are now critiquing what appears to be a swift erosion of protections against displacement. Most recently, council rejected a motion to simply keep track of tenants who will be displaced by the Broadway Plan. Prior to that, council rejected a pace of change policy that would have limited mass demovictions.

Based on city data, if all development enquiries currently with the city were to go through, an estimated 2,000 households in the area would be impacted, says Green Party Councillor Pete Fry.

“You see all these older apartment buildings housing people, and they are full, and they are bulldozer bait,” says Mr. Fry, who introduced the motion to collect data on demovictions. “And I know people who live in the Broadway Corridor who have modest incomes relative to what the market is demanding now, and I have no idea what they are going to do.”

Mr. Fry said he was frustrated when council also rejected a pace of change policy, which would have capped the annual rate of development. He conceded that there is a natural pace of change due to inflation and city staff capacity.

“The staff are overwhelmed with tons of permit development applications and people are hoping to get rich selling properties on the corridor,” Mr. Fry said in an interview. “A lot of asking prices are quite high for these developable spots. I think that’s putting a bit of a chill on the massive displacement that I fear.”

History has shown that unabated redevelopment of a rental-rich neighbourhood has had consequences. In Burnaby, B.C.’s Metrotown, hundreds of low-cost housing units were replaced by condominiums. Well-intentioned government policy has also led to a reduction in affordable housing, according to a policy analyst. For every new rental unit built in Canada, 15 affordable low cost units were lost under federal and provincial housing supply initiatives, from 2011 to 2016, wrote researcher Steve Pomeroy, in a 2021 paper for Carleton University’s Centre for Urban Research and Education.

In B.C., where land costs are highest, the financialization of housing is especially hard on renters. A recent study out of University of B.C., based on Statscan data, showed that B.C. has the highest eviction rate, and the vast bulk of them, at 85 per cent, are not due to any fault of the tenant. The most common reason cited was the selling off of the property.

At the time the Broadway Plan was unveiled, a city spokesperson said the bulk of redevelopment wouldn’t affect those affordable older buildings, but would focus on the big transit stations, such as the 39-storey mixed-use tower at Broadway and Granville.

Near-term change wouldn’t target those existing apartment areas, the spokesperson said.

And for those tenants that did get displaced, the city said there was the tenant relocation and protection policy, or TRPP, which would require a developer to find homes for tenants at the same rents and then give them right of first refusal on the newly built replacement unit, at the equivalent rent. The other option is upfront compensation based on length of tenancy.

The future for Broadway Plan renters increasingly depends on the success of the TRPP, and how the regulation will play out. The city’s renter office, which offered support and resources for renters, closes at the end of this month.

In order to limit a wave of mass evictions similar to Metrotown, city staff had come up with a pace of change proposal for existing buildings, for example allowing only five proposals a year for consideration, affecting an estimated 180 households.

But city council nixed the policy in March, in a 7 to 2 vote, with all ABC councillors and OneCity councilor Christine Boyle opposed, and Green councillors Adriane Carr and Pete Fry in favour. Those opposed argued that the limitation was unnecessary and would be counter-productive to rapidly bringing housing online.

A similar argument was used against tracking displacements. In that vote, all ABC councillors rejected the proposal, and Councillor Boyle and the Green councillors were in favour.

Without a pace of change policy, the TRPP will now prove challenging to implement because displaced renters will have nowhere to go, says Mr. Fry. The motion to track tenants was intended so that council could take action if mass displacements started happening.

Mr. Fry says he had voted in support of the Broadway Plan, but on the condition that new supply would be built in station areas and create a buffer of new homes. When studying a pace of change policy, staff had estimated that 6,300 units of housing could be built without displacing anyone, he says, creating a swing space for displaced tenants to move to under the TRPP.

Marc White, a member of the city’s Older Persons and Elders Advisory Committee, told council it was critical to monitor rate of demovictions because of the particular impact they’ve had on seniors, many of whom live in the Broadway Plan area, and are on limited incomes. He too remarked on the net loss of affordable housing.

“There is no use getting rid of 3,000 housing and then celebrating the creation of 1,000 slightly affordable housing some seniors could live in,” Mr. White said.

Of the TRPP, he said: “The more concern is what happens to seniors after they leave and whether that protective rent will stay there for continued generations.”

ABC Councillor Peter Meiszner said there’s a need to reduce regulation and red tape to ensure housing gets built, particularly in an area with a new rapid transit line. He cited the TRPP as “the best tenant protection in North America.”

“People are not being thrown out on the street here,” Mr. Meiszner said. “We are going to be substantially increasing the amount of rental housing … and while waiting for that to come on stream, they are going to be taken care of.”

He said construction couldn’t even begin until those displaced had homes to go to, as per the TRPP.

Ms. Carr commented that staff had already made it clear that without a pace of change policy, the TRPP could only do so much.

“To be very clear, the theory of tenant protections needs to be matched by the reality of what we can deliver on,” Ms. Carr said.

She also pointed out that the motion was solely about tracking data, and would not affect development.

Mr. Fry said that there are ways to get around the TRPP. For example, the TRPP is only triggered on a development permit, not a building permit to do a major renovation. A landlord could clear a building out for renovation, bring in tenants at new market rates, and then apply to redevelop a year or two later without having to compensate a bunch of long-term tenants. Mr. Fry said that scenario already happened at an apartment building at Templeton and Oxford, in Grandview-Woodland, where tenants were evicted to make way for a building with triple the rents. The building had been renovated in 2018 and a development application was filed in 2021.

Because the TRPP is “onerous” to development, he sees developers likely to find ways around it.

“If you are stuck as a developer trying to develop a building and adhering to the TRPP, you are between a rock and a hard place because there’s nowhere for folks to relocate to because of vacancy rates.

“If you have carrying costs, interest rates, labour shortages, shovels in the ground, you are going to find other ways to get those tenants out.

“The TRPP is great on paper, but in reality there are a bunch of gaps and cracks to fall through on this one.”

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