B.C.’s transit density plans raise risk of demovictions, housing expert warns

Click to play video: 'Transit-oriented development law raises demoviction concerns'
Transit-oriented development law raises demoviction concerns
When the province introduced legislation earlier this month to build more towers near transit hubs, many housing advocates called it a win. In order to build those towers though, many older buildings filled with low to moderate income renters will have to be torn down. As Alissa Thibault reports, one expert is calling the lack of protections for those renters a missed opportunity. – Nov 22, 2023

A proposed law to allow densification near transit hubs in B.C. cities could potentially lead to an increase in demovicitons, according to a Simon Fraser University housing expert.

SFU City Program director Andy Yan raised the concerns after conducting a “preliminary current conditions” study looking at areas that would be covered by the NDP government’s proposed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) legislation.

Click to play video: 'B.C. wants to increase density near transit hubs'
B.C. wants to increase density near transit hubs

“I think this is a critical part of the planning process,” Yan told Global News. “To understand what’s actually happening on the ground, who is actually living in the neighbourhood and who might be affected by change and development.”

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B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon unveiled the legislation earlier this month, which — if passed — will require cities to designate TOD areas within 800 metres of a rapid transit station and 400 metres of bus exchanges.

The legislation would mandate zoning in those areas to include minimum height and density requirements based on city size and distance from the transit facility — capping out at towers of up to 20 storeys within 200 metres of rapid transit stations.

Ministry of Housing

Yan’s review of the Metro Vancouver areas affected by the proposed legislation found that they are currently home to a large proportion of the region’s renters.

“One in three renters in Metro Vancouver already live in these areas” Yan said. “Fifty per cent of people who already live in these TOD areas are already renters.”

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Yan said those renters also tend to be middle- or low-income, and that about a third of them are living in “core housing need” — a term referring to people living in dwellings considered unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable.

In the city of Vancouver proper, Yan’s survey found 43 per cent of existing purpose-built rental buildings were inside an area that would be captured by TOD areas. Such buildings had an average of 14 units, and almost 90 per cent of them were more than 50 years old, it found.

Click to play video: 'Province looks to acquire lands near transit hubs to increase density'
Province looks to acquire lands near transit hubs to increase density

The Vancouver Tenants Union says that combination raises major concerns that renters will be pushed out as developers look to replace the aging stock with new, denser buildings.

“What that means is poorer tenants are driven out of their communities, especially communities that have public investment like transit happening in them,” said tenants’ union steering committee member Mazdak Gharibnavaz.

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“When you have investments like that it drives up land values and it makes those areas very lucrative for for-profit development.”

In 2022, the City of Vancouver did pass robust renter protections for tenants living inside its Broadway Plan zone, however, Yan’s study found those protections only apply to about a quarter of the city’s housing stock, and don’t apply to units in other parts of Metro Vancouver.

Gharibnavaz added that the VTU has already heard of unscrupulous landlords trying to buy tenants out of buildings, on the hopes they don’t know their rights.

“We’ve seen those in other cities, we’ve seen them in Burnaby in the past,” he said.

Yan also noted that the City of Vancouver has rejected tracking the pace of demovictions in the Broadway plan area.

“It’s not being measured,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver motion to track Broadway demovictions rejected'
Vancouver motion to track Broadway demovictions rejected

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the proposed legislation leaves the power to implement rental safeguards with local governments.

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He pointed to Vancouver’s Broadway Plan protections as an example that other cities could emulate.

“Local governments will have the ability to do that, they will have the ability to identify what type of unit mix they want in the buildings and a whole host of other measures,” he said.

The legislation will also require cities to do housing needs reports to identify future requirements, which they can use to build “inclusionary policies” ensuring there are a variety of types of housing available near transit.

But Yan said leaving those decisions up to local governments raises “profound concerns” about the potential for displacement and evictions.

With the legislation currently under review, the government has the power to enshrine those renter protections at a provincial level, he added.

“This is where the provincial government has the responsibility of setting the rules — I believe some of these rules need to begin with protecting renters,” he said.

“This proposed legislation is an opportunity through which to not only put in additional height and density, but then also could do focus in terms of encouraging more rental to be developed, more non-market housing to be developed. This is really something that is missing.”

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