Existing protections are insufficient to offset the challenges rental housing tenants in Vancouver are increasingly facing when they are displaced, and a number of new and enhanced protections are proposed to help address the issues and system’s gaps.
On Monday, Vancouver city council is scheduled to deliberate on a city staff report that outlines amendments to the Tenant Relocation and Protection Policy.
City staff acknowledge that older, existing rental stock are particularly in high demand, given that their rents are on average nearly 30% lower than newly-constructed housing. For this reason, these units make it possible for many low- and moderate-income households to live in Vancouver.
At the same time, the municipal government notes this stock is ageing, with over 80% built before 1980, when seismic, energy, and safety codes were less robust. These buildings will require significant upgrades or even complete redevelopment, but this must be done in a way that ensures “permanent, affordable housing options to existing residents that are minimally disruptive and in line with residents’ preferences where possible.”
“In consultation with renters and legal advocates, staff learned of additional challenges facing renters at risk of displacement,” reads the report.
“Renters have told staff about stress and anxiety about the future of their homes when their building is sold to a new owner; pressure and intimidation from landlords to take buy-out agreements rather than accommodate renovations; and fear about inability to find an affordable replacement home due to lack of availability and high rents.”
The most significant policy change is the level of cash compensation for market rental housing, which is based on the length of tenancy. City staff are proposing higher levels of compensation for all renters to address the burden and costs of relocation, especially for longer-term tenants:
For the compensation of the longest tenancy periods, the cash provided for the displacement of a one-bedroom unit would be equivalent to over $51,000, based on the average monthly market rents for such a unit and multiplied over 24 months.
“Longer term tenants are generally more affected by displacement due to having lower rents compared to the current market,” continues the report.
Other compensations for moving expenses remain unchanged, but there will be an additional stipend of up to $2,500 for tenants with special circumstances, such as disabilities and pets.
The existing right of first refusal at 20% below new market rents for tenants returning to redeveloped sites will be maintained as there would be significant financial challenges to housing providers and developers if this rate is any lower.
Additionally, the proposed policy will require landlords to enhance their approach for assisting tenants with finding new accommodations, and increase the level of communication between tenants and the redevelopment team.
Some lesser-impact reforms are also proposed for tenants of non-profit housing, as well as longer-term actions to address other gaps in the rental housing market and tenancy laws.
“The current crisis of rental availability and affordability in Vancouver is posing a serious challenge to the ability of renters to stay and thrive in Vancouver,” reads the report.
“There is very little rental available that is affordable to low and moderate income households. For renters with very low incomes and additional housing barriers, this can mean severe housing insecurity, risks to mental or physical health, and even homelessness.”
According to the city, Vancouver’s purpose-built rental vacancy rate has been hovering at less than 1% since 2014, and over the same period the average rents for these units have increased by over 25%. A healthy vacancy rate for both tenants and landlords is considered in the range of between 3% and 5%.
In a separate city staff report to be discussed on the same day, the municipal government has informed of its strategy and budget of opening a new renter’s office to assist renters, perform advocacy work for renters, and coordinate between renters, property owners, landlords, community partners, and other levels of government.