Clayton Heights controversy shines a light on renting in Surrey, where vacancy is almost zero

File photo. Global News

The stock of rental housing in Surrey is in the spotlight after city council decided to suspend evictions in the Clayton Heights neighbourhood.

On Monday, council froze a planned crackdown on tenants of illegal multiple-suite properties and directed staff to prepare a city-wide report on rentals.

The city is currently facing an 0.6 per cent rental vacancy rate, according to the latest data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Listen: Surrey halts Clayton Heights evictions
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Speaking with CKNW’s Steele & Drex, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said a key factor in freezing the evictions was ensuring there was actually enough housing to relocate renters.

“I can tell you right now, this is the first time in probably very close to three decades where we are now seeing applications coming before us for increasing rental stock,” Hepner said.

That lack of new, purpose-built rental housing was discussed by councillors on Monday, with some signalling a willingness to look at zoning changes so they could accommodate new units.

WATCH: Dozens protest against crackdown on secondary suites in Surrey

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Dozens protest against crackdown on secondary suites in Surrey – Nov 6, 2017

But isolated tweaks to Surrey’s zoning may not be enough as housing affordability issues plague all of the Lower Mainland, said Andy Yan, director of SFU’s City Program.

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“It’s perhaps better that this be done on a regional basis, or indeed as part of kind of a set of zoning reform,” he said.

“We have a system of zoning which is in significant need of an update.”

LISTEN: Hold on housing issues, but parking not addressed

Updating zoning to accommodate denser rental housing options, or even legalizing the type of multiple suites that are at the heart of the Clayton Heights controversy, also won’t do much to solve Surrey’s ills without changes to the transportation network, Yan said.

Complaints about traffic congestion and parking issues spurred the city’s initial plan to move renters out of the area.

“Without the kind of infrastructure, particularly the public transit infrastructure, to support anything beyond a single-detached home that’s car dependent, any car-dependent development is going to be severely constrained as in what’s happening here in Surrey,” Yan said.

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There could be some relief for Clayton Heights on that front: TransLink started offering bus service to the neighbourhood in September.

However, it will likely be some time before the area sees rapid transit.

Phase Two of Surrey’s light rail transit (LRT) is slated to pass through the area, but no date has been set for construction to begin.

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