News Local

Vancouver affordability being torn down

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

A map of the 49 residential properties demolished over seven years in Vancouver. Google Maps

A map of the 49 residential properties demolished over seven years in Vancouver. Google Maps

Vancouver has lost more than 400 units of affordable older stock housing to redevelopment over the past seven years.

And even with the renter displacement protections offered by city hall, those given the boot can expect rents of newer buildings to be far higher than what they’ve paid previously.

Data provided by the City of Vancouver through the freedom of information process reveals 49 properties were given demolition permits between January 2008 and August 2015.

In all, they represent 430 units of some of the cheapest rental stock in the city. In Vancouver, rental properties built before 1989 are on average 30% cheaper than new buildings built after 2005, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

“Usually older buildings, not only just the depreciation that’s taken place, but also the location of some of these units may be less desirable,” said Richard Sam, principal market analyst with CMHC.

“When you have newer units you are looking at modern fixtures, newer locations, over time things evolve with transportation routes and public transport. New units have very close to condo-like amenities. The demand for those just seem to be much higher and probably the cost to build those units are much higher than the past.”

CMHC data shows the average price of a post-2005 rental building in Vancouver is $1,674. The average monthly rent of one built before 1989 is $1,187.

With the exception of a single building built in 1990, none of the 49 demolished buildings were built after 1975. Five are more than a century old, according to data provided by BC Assessment.

“The older the building the less the rental rate is. The walk-ups or whatever that are 50 years old, they’re generating $1.75 to $2 (of monthly rent) per square foot,” said Les Twarog, a Realtor with RE/MAX Crest Realty Westside who has compiled data on more than 17,000 rental and strata properties in the region.

“The newer buildings and again in Vancouver, Elan, 1255 Seymour, would get about $2.50 a foot. The newer, higher buildings like 1483 Richards would get $2.75 to $3 per foot.

“High end buildings like Shangrila — 1111 Alberni or 1128 W. Georgia — would get $3.50 per foot. Furnished would get $5 per foot.”

While the city’s data does not break down which demolished buildings are strata and which are rental properties, the vast majority of those demolished are likely rentals, Twarog said.

That’s because demolishing strata properties requires redevelopers to buy out each unit owner. Rental apartments are comparatively easier to tear down, particularly if the property has fewer than six units.

Any more and Vancouver City Hall’s official development plan requires builders to replace the same amount of rental units at the new building in a “one-for-one” process, the city said in a statement.

Among the demolished properties, 27 of the 49 buildings had fewer than six units, which means developers did not have to replace the rental stock.

The seven years worth of demolitions are but a snippet of the lost older rental stock in the region. CMHC has records of the age and quantity of rental units in Vancouver dating back to 1990. These records show from that time, Vancouverites have lost 4,448 units of rental housing built before 1999.

Meanwhile, 4,550 of the new, more expensive units built after 2000 have sprung up.

Despite the loss of older, affordable rental stock, experts like Metro Vancouver senior housing planner Margaret Eberle believe the best solution is to increase the supply until the price balances out.

“We have a very low vacancy rate (0.6% as of October 2015) ... the thrust of the regional affordable housing strategy is to increase the supply and that would relieve some of the pressure on the rental housing stock,” she said.

“We started to see some new development, which is great, and we also see some municipalities adopting tenant-relocation strategies to help in terms of moving costs and notice for eviction.”

These protections, at least those recently adopted in Vancouver, will require landlords to pay tenants two months rent and moving expenses upon eviction, starting on Feb. 15.

For renters like Amanda Stewart, however, the waiting game for more supply to show up simply isn’t working.

“I’ve been looking for 18 months ... I do work full time, but with a car payment and bills and gas and stuff I can’t afford more than $800 a month,” said the Surrey resident, who aims to move to Vancouver to be closer to her job.

“I found a couple of older buildings on Main and say 24th Avenue and some of them still wanted $1,300-1,400 per month ... I haven’t given up — I keep putting out an ad every month.” 

Vancouver’s current rental stock breakdown by construction date

Pre-1960 14,626

1960-1979 30,965

1980-1999 6,377

2000 or newer 4,550

Source: CMHC


Is the City of Vancouver doing enough to prevent the loss of rental units?