Dan Fumano: Vancouver mayor offers to protect Broadway tenants

Opinion: Mayor Kennedy Stewart offers “the strongest protections for tenants in Canada.” Not everyone will like the density required for the plan to work.

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As Vancouver City Council plans to add significant density to the Broadway corridor as well as the subway line currently under construction, Mayor Kennedy Stewart says he wants to make sure the redevelopment doesn’t force tenants to leave their quarters.

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On Tuesday, Stewart announced plans to put in place what he called “the strongest protections for tenants in Canada” to ensure that when older apartment buildings are redeveloped, existing tenants can move into a house in the new building without an increase in their rent.

A draft of the Broadway plan was released in March, and the final version is expected to go to council for decision later in May. At City Hall on Tuesday, Stewart told reporters: ‘As things stand, I don’t think the draft plan presented earlier this year contains strong enough protections for tenants, and I will be proposing amendments to make sure that’s the case.”

The proposed Broadway plan aims to transform the 500-block area along the subway from Clark Drive west to Vine Street, envisioning building heights ranging from six-story apartment buildings to low-density side streets to 40-story towers around transit stations. City Hall said the plan aims to grow the population of the Broadway Corridor from about 78,000 to 128,000 over the next 30 years.

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Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart unveils enhanced measures to protect tenants in the Broadway Corridor, the area set to undergo major redevelopment with the next subway line, at Vancouver City Hall on May 3.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart unveils enhanced measures to protect tenants in the Broadway Corridor, the area set to undergo major redevelopment with the next subway line, at Vancouver City Hall on May 3. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

There are concerns, however, that the development could lead to the demolition of old apartment buildings, which provide relatively more affordable rental accommodation, and the displacement of the people living there.

The draft plan includes compensation for tenants affected by the redevelopment, including the right of first refusal to move into the new building with a 20% reduction from average citywide market rents. Developers would also have to pay to move the tenant into temporary accommodation while the new building is under construction, and top up their interim rents during that time.

But given the rise in rents over the past few years, even a 20% discount on average rates could still be a lot more than a long-term tenant paid before their building was remodeled. It could also be a lot more than they can afford.

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So Stewart is proposing that instead of a 20% discount on average rents, tenants can move into a unit in the new building at the same rent they were paying 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, depending on their length of occupancy. For new tenants who are now paying high rents, Stewart says his proposal could mean they are actually paying lower rents in the new building.

“The bottom line is that no tenants along Broadway will see their rents go up because of the redevelopment,” Stewart said.

Asked if he would eventually like to bring this kind of tenant protection beyond Broadway to other parts of the city, Stewart said he would, adding, “If we do it right, all tenants in the city would breathe a sigh of relief if these measures are put in place, for which I will fight.

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In 2019, when Vancouver City Council approved tougher protections for tenants facing redevelopment, some landlord advocates opposed the changes, arguing that overly stringent protections for tenants could have the unintended consequences of hamper the construction of much-needed rental housing.

On Tuesday, Stewart touted the sharp increase in rental housing approvals by City Hall in recent years. He said he’s spoken with figures in the development industry, who broadly support the direction he’s proposing, and he thinks redevelopment projects could still be viable even with the new, tougher tenant protections.

Stewart spoke positively of the Broadway plan as a whole, but had also previously signaled that he may try to push for stronger tenant protections. In March, shortly after the most recent draft plan was released, Stewart told me he thought the draft plan was “close” on the right densities and land uses, but had “ some concerns about the protection of tenants”.

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“Are they going far enough? I’m still chewing on this,” Stewart said in March. “We have to make sure no one is kicked out of their neighborhood.”

Even if the council approves the Broadway plan and Stewart’s proposed tenant protection measures, it remains to be seen whether these policies will work as intended or if they could actually prevent the redevelopment of these properties.

The whole idea that developers could turn old apartment buildings into new apartment buildings while securing some units at below-market rents hinges on increased density. The old three-storey walk-ups would not be replaced by new three-storey walk-ups, but by 20-storey buildings. Not everyone likes this compromise.

A rally opposing the Broadway plan was held outside City Hall on Saturday.

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A flyer announcing the rally urges residents to come out and 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 communications and lobbying firm West Star Communications, who has emerged as a vocal critic of Stewart and most board members.

Tieleman said Tuesday he doesn’t believe Stewart’s proposed protections for tenants are realistic, calling it a “fantasyland” plan.

But aside from his skepticism of Stewart’s proposal, Tieleman said that while it’s possible the mayor’s plan will work and each temporarily relocated tenant could return to a new unit in a new building at his old rent, he still wouldn’t support the plan.

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“It’s in exchange for accepting dramatic and sweeping change” in those 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 heading to the polls for the Oct. 15 municipal election should make their views known. Tieleman said there is only one candidate for mayor – TEAM for a Livable Vancouver County. Colleen Hardwick – seems to reflect her view of what’s best for the future of Broadway and the city at large.

“I don’t want to see a 20-40 story Broadway hallway all the way, it’s going to be a concrete canyon,” Tieleman said. “It’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.”

dfumano@postmedia.com

twitter.com/fumano


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