With Vancouver city council considering adding significant density to the Broadway corridor along with the subway line now under construction, Mayor Kennedy Stewart says he wants to make sure that redevelopment doesn’t force renters out of their neighborhoods.
On Tuesday, Stewart announced his plan to bring in what he called “the strongest renter protections in Canada” to ensure that when old apartment buildings are redeveloped, existing tenants can move into a home in the new building with no increase in their rent.
A draft of the Broadway plan was released in March, and the final version is expected to come to council for decision later in May. Tuesday at city hall, Stewart told reporters: “As it stands, I do not feel the draft plan presented earlier this year contains strong enough renter protections, and I will bring forward amendments to make sure that it does.”
The draft Broadway plan looks to transform the 500-block area along the subway, from Clark Drive west to Vine Street, contemplating building heights ranging from six-storey apartment buildings on lower-density side streets to 40-storey towers around transit stations. City hall says the plan looks to increase the Broadway corridor’s population from about 78,000 residents to as much as 128,000 over the next 30 years.
There are concerns, though, that development could lead to the demolition of older apartment buildings, which provide relatively more affordable rental homes, and the displacement of the people living there.
The draft plan includes compensation for tenants affected by redevelopment, including the right-of-first-refusal to move into the new building at a 20 per cent discount to citywide average market rents. Developers would also need to pay to move the tenant to temporary accommodation while the new building is under construction, and top up their interim rents during that period.
But considering how much rents have increased in recent years, even a 20 per cent discount off average rates could still be a lot more than what a longtime tenant paid before their building was redeveloped. It could also be a lot more than they can afford.
So, Stewart is proposing that, instead of a 20 per cent discount off average rents, tenants could move into a unit in the new building at the same rent they paid before the property was redeveloped.
Tenants could also choose not to move into the new building, and instead opt for a cash payment from the developer, based on their length of tenure. For newer tenants now paying high rents, Stewart says his proposal could mean they actually pay lower rents in the new building.
“The bottom line is that no renter along Broadway will see their rents go up due to redevelopment,” Stewart said.
Asked if he wants to eventually bring these kinds of tenant protections beyond Broadway to other parts of the city, Stewart replied that he would, adding: “If we do it right, all renters in the city would breathe a sigh of relief if these measures are put in place, which I’ll fight for.”
In 2019, when Vancouver city council approved stronger protections for renters facing redevelopment, some landlords’ advocates opposed those changes, arguing that overly stringent renter protections could have the unintended consequences of impeding badly needed rental housing construction.
On Tuesday, Stewart touted city hall’s big surge in rental home approvals in recent years. He said he has spoken with development industry figures, who are broadly supportive of the direction he’s proposing, and he believes redevelopment projects could still be viable even with the stronger new tenant protections.
Stewart has spoken in positive terms about the Broadway plan overall, but had also previously signaled he might try to push for stronger tenant protections. In March, shortly after the release of the most recent draft plan, Stewart told me that he believed the draft plan was “close” on the right densities and land uses, but he had “some worries about renter protections.”
“Do they go far enough? I’m still chewing that over,” Stewart said in March. “We have to make sure that no one gets pushed out of their neighbourhoods.”
Even if council does approve the Broadway plan and Stewart’s proposed tenant protection measures, it remains to be seen if these policies will work as intended, or whether they might in fact prevent these properties from being redeveloped.
The whole idea that developers could turn old apartment buildings into new apartment buildings while securing some units at below-market rents is premised on increased density. Old three-storey walk-ups wouldn’t be replaced by new three-storey walk-ups, but by 20-storey buildings. Not everyone likes that trade-off.
A rally opposing the Broadway plan has been organized for Saturday outside city hall.
A flyer advertising the rally urges residents to come out to oppose city hall’s “plan to turn our city into a metropolis of skyscrapers and transit hubs.”
One of the speakers at Saturday’s rally will be Bill Tieleman, president of the communications and lobbying firm West Star Communications, who has emerged as a vocal critic of Stewart and most of council.
Tieleman said Tuesday he doesn’t believe Stewart’s proposed renter protections are realistic, calling it a “fantasyland” plan.
But aside from his skepticism over Stewart’s proposal, Tieleman said even if it were possible that the mayor’s plan worked and every temporarily displaced renter could return to a new unit in a new building at their old rent, he still wouldn’t support the plan.
“It’s in exchange for accepting a dramatic, radical” change to these neighborhoods, said Tieleman, who lives in a condo in Kitsilano just west of the Broadway plan area.
The Broadway plan will have massive implications for Vancouver’s future, Tieleman says, and voters headed to the polls for the Oct. 15 municipal election should make their views known. Tieleman said only one mayoral candidate—TEAM for a Livable Vancouver Coun. Colleen Hardwick — seems to reflect his view of her for what’s best for the future of Broadway and the broader city.
“I do not want to see a Broadway corridor that is 20-to-40 storeys all along, it will be a concrete canyon,” Tieleman said. “That’s not an appropriate development model for the city … and if people think it is, then I guess they’ll have a decision to make in October.”
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