3 min

West End renters worried about affordability

Meeting calls for moratorium on rezoning requests

Credit: Nathaniel Christopher photo

An overflow crowd of more than 300 West Enders voiced their concerns about development, housing affordability and the future of the West

End’s rental buildings at a town hall meeting on Apr 10.

The meeting, organised by the West End Residents Association (WERA) and real estate agent Rob Joyce, was sparked in part by the rezoning application for a three-story building on the 1700 block of Pendrell St.

The developer, DTKH Pendrell Developments Ltd, wants to demolish the existing building and replace it with a 19-story, 34-unit condo tower. In exchange for the rezoning permit, the developer will create 10 affordable housing units in an existing house.

WERA president Brent Granby considers it a troubling development.

“We’re going to lose 16 units of affordable rental space,” he says. “The [new units] could cost $1 million apiece. We need to look at what kind of density we’re putting in. The three storey walk-ups in the West End are a unique component of our community. A 19-story tower is more like Yaletown than the West End.”

Current West End development guidelines, drafted in 1989, allow for this sort of development. West End activist Carole Walker believes city bylaws should protect the West End’s low-rise apartment buildings.

“Those 20-year-old guidelines need to be scrapped and replaced with guidelines that truly retain the neighbourhood character, retain affordable housing, retain a housing mix and forces landlords to maintain buildings rather than just milk them until they are uninhabitable,” she said.

“As a community and a society we have to decide what is more important: community, people and neighbourhood or the right for anyone to sell, develop, re-develop and do whatever they can for profit, often huge profit.”

Granby believes affordability is crucial for liveability in the West End.

“Eighty-five percent of people in the West End are renters,” he points out. “That’s a very important market, it’s very diverse.”

Carole Walker put forth a resolution that a message on behalf of the meeting attendees be forwarded to city council. The resolution calls for: a complete review and reworking of the 1989 zoning regulations, a moratorium on all requests for rezoning until the new regulations are finalised, and that all building maintenance standards are enforced throughout the West End.

Cameron Gray, director of the Housing Centre for the City of Vancouver, says the rental housing crunch is not unique to the West End.

“Over half of the households in Vancouver are renters. And renters are crucial for retaining the diversity in this city,” he said. “Vancouver has had affordable housing crises since World War II. 2008 is the second year in a row when vacancy has fallen below one percent. This has only happened once before in our city’s history.”

This is not a new battle. Anne Gregory, who has lived in the West End for over 50 years, was involved in tenant rights movement in the 1960s and ’70s.

“It was the NDP government under Dave Barrett who gave us tenant rights in 1972,” she said.

“It makes me sad that we have to start all over again from the beginning. It’s become so unethical, only for people who come here and spend here, not for those who live here. I want the right to stay here as long as I live!”

Long time West End resident Eleanor Hadley believes tenant rights eroded as people took them for granted.

“Then the Liberals came in and watered it down as much as they could,” she said. “Stay involved, and vote for a party that will do what you want. We have politicians, one has an office downstairs and the other across the street. They are good for nothing. We need to stay involved and vote for the right people!”Councillors David Cadman,

Tim Stevenson, parks commissioner Spencer Herbert and former councillors Ellen Woodsworth and Gordon Price were in attendance. MLA Lorne Mayencourt arrived towards the end of the meeting, as well.

Most people who spoke called on the city government to take action, pointing to the municipal election this November. But Herbert reminded everyone of the provincial election in 2009.

“The rental issue is huge,” he says. “But we can’t forget the role of the provincial government in it. The Residential Tenancy Act is a provincial legislation. But it’s become harder to fight these issues. We no longer have a residential tenancy office in Vancouver.”

Though there are Residential Tenancy offices in Victoria and Burnaby, the BC Liberals closed the Vancouver office several years ago.

Stevenson says many “unscrupulous” landlords displace tenants and take advantage of the current laws.

“When a building falls apart the city comes and tells them to clean it up. They don’t. Then they issue evictions, board the place up and sit on the property and they don’t maintain it, don’t do anything with it. They hope to make a great deal of money to sell it down the line,” he charges.

On Mar 27, Stevenson’s party, Vision Vancouver, announced new proposals to help protect Vancouver renters. The proposals, which were being voted on by city council at press time, seek to re-establish a Residential Tenancy office in Vancouver, create an evictions database and make it harder to evict tenants.