Municipal planners are seeking public feedback on the proposed physical location and types of services offered by the City of Vancouver’s Renter Services Centre.
The proposed location is at the office building at 900 Howe Street, strategically right across from the provincial Law Courts in downtown Vancouver. It is intended to offer rental housing tenants with assistance, specifically those facing eviction, educating renters about their rights and responsibilities, helping understand city and provincial policies, and assisting with filling out housing applications.
It will also improve “access to supports, education, and legal advocacy for Vancouver renters.”
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The office already has an enquiry phone and email hotline that offers renters in the city with assistance, and staff have a mandate to respond within two business days. It is in addition to the already-established Residential Tenancy Branch line, a province-wide service.
But the implementation of the centre’s physical location and the expansion of its services has been delayed due to the public consultation, and the pandemic.
The current consultation will lead to a report in Fall 2021 on “whether the idea of a Renter Services Centre is feasible, whether it meets community needs, and what are the best options to pursue.”
Further phases of work later this year and into 2022 would select non-profit organizations that represent renters to operate from the centre, and confirm participation of the municipal and provincial governments. The physical location for the service centre would also undergo design and renovation work during this period.
Along with the launch of a Vancouver city-wide planning process, the establishment of a city-funded Renter Services Centre was amongst the first policy decisions made by the current Vancouver City Council in late 2018 after the civic election. City council unanimously approved a motion by Green Party councillor Pete Fry, who said the idea was based on San Francisco’s Rent Board, and the need to support Vancouver’s high and growing proportion of residents who rent.
A May 2019 report by city staff estimated the creation and operation of the office would cost $5.6 million over the first three years between 2019 and 2021, with $1.46 million towards developing the Renter Services Centre, including $140,000 for the first year’s lease and $550,000 for renovation costs. Another $1.8 million will go towards staffing, legal, and communications costs, $600,000 for consultation and research services, $1.55 million for funding community advocacy and services, and $150,000 for tenant relocation specialists. These costs were based on a launch of the physical location in the second half of 2021.
Most of the municipal government’s costs for the centre are intended to be covered by revenue raised from the city’s Empty Homes Tax.
The report notes that 900 Howe Street is a city-owned property, and at the time it was under a two-year sublease to Public Legal Education Society and unlikely to be available no earlier than the second quarter of 2021. It has about 5,500 sq ft and is large enough to host multiple organizations and services.
The city’s online survey on the Renter Services Centre is open through August 13, 2021.