June 28, 2019 10:16 pm

Victoria to consider rental-only zoning protection for over 500 properties

A vacancy sign outside a rental apartment in Victoria, B.C., Canada.

The Canadian Press Images/Don Denton
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Victoria could become the next B.C. city to introduce rental-only zoning in an effort to protect tenants from rising rents and demovicitions.

Mayor Lisa Helps said Friday during CKNW’s Gimme Shelter: A Real Estate Reality Check special that a city staff report will be debated at Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting.

“Our staff has just indicated to me that we will be discussing rental-only zoning,” Helps told host Lynda Steele during the roundtable discussion.

LISTEN: CKNW’s Lynda Steele asks B.C. mayors about rental-only zoning

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The report, which is available on the city’s website, stemmed from a city council motion in December that asked staff to explore taking advantage of B.C.’s new legislation that allows municipalities to zone for rentals only.

The law allows local governments to protect existing rental properties from being redeveloped, as well as zone undeveloped land to only allow rentals.

READ MORE: Municipalities may soon be able to zone for rental developments only

Staff says all of Victoria’s 500-plus existing rental properties, which accounts for roughly 16,000 units, could be covered by the protections.

If approved by council, the proposal would go through months of studies and public consultation to determine levels of priorities for those properties.

The first group would not get covered until at least late fall, when a new report is sent to council for approval.

WATCH: (Aired Feb. 28) Landlords launch lawsuit against New Westminster zoning

At issue is the fact that 96 per cent of Victoria’s existing purpose-built rental properties were built before 1980, putting them in prime position for landlords and developers to lobby for redevelopment.

More than a quarter of those buildings were constructed between 1870 and 1939, the report says.

Staff is pushing council to adopt a public engagement approach to the proposal that will include hearing from landlords, tenants and developers.

READ MORE: Rental building owners file petition to quash New Westminster rental-only zones

Only one other B.C. city, New Westminster, has taken advantage of the new provincial law.

In January, the city rushed to enact rental-only zoning for six buildings that council and staff said were set to demovict its tenants.

A month later, the owners of those buildings filed a motion in B.C. Supreme Court, claiming that the city acted in bad faith because of a lack of reasonable consultation and false statements.

WATCH: (Aired March 4) Vancouver Green councillor calls for rezoning freeze

During the roundtable discussion at CKNW, which featured other B.C. mayors talking about how they’re tackling housing affordability, New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote said he’s confident the court will rule in the city’s favour.

“If we’re not able to use this tool to protect existing rentals, then it’s not an effective tool,” he said. “We would then have to look at other tools we can use.”

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, meanwhile, said rental-only zoning will likely be applied to the Broadway corridor along the future SkyTrain route to UBC.

Council previously approved a partial rezoning freeze along the corridor to prevent speculation ahead of the extension’s construction.

READ MORE: City of Vancouver approves partial rezoning freeze for future subway corridor

“There’s land there that’s lower-zoned so you can build up to four storeys,” Stewart said. “When we upzone that so you can build a taller building, that’s when rental-only zoning will come in.”

Other cities including Richmond have also asked staff to explore similar small-scale rental-only zoning efforts, which puts Victoria’s catch-all approach into stark relief.

But Helps said she wants to do everything she can to help renters.

“I think, and we’re starting to do this in Victoria, we need to start thinking about not only the cost of housing, but the cost of living,” she said.

“If people have better access to transit, better access to affordable childcare, there is maybe a bit more buffer to pay a little more for rent.”

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