As he stood outside his manufactured home in Fleetwood, Richard Porta pointed to his workshop and a modest garden, where he grows tomatoes.
“I don’t want to die slowly, so I have to keep myself active,” he said. “Nobody’s going to do it for me.”
Porta is one of about 80 people — mostly seniors — who must move after a developer was given the OK to build 137 townhouses in place of their homes at Green Tree Estates at at 15820 Fraser Hwy.
Surrey city council voted unanimously to give third reading to Dawson + Sawyer’s application on Monday, May 7 after a public hearing that brought out those both for and against the proposal.
“I have no idea where I’m going,” said a disheartened Porta. “I have to try to replace what I have. How I’m going to do it? I don’t know. I need a little garden outside, I need a workshop, if you put me in an apartment you might as well shoot me.”
Porta expects he’ll have to move out of the Lower Mainland in order to maintain the lifestyle he enjoys – and that keeps him active – but that will mean leaving friends.
“I looked at a place in Chase. I can replace what I have here but I don’t want to leave my friends,” he lamented.
If you ask Porta, he thinks the seniors should be given longer to leave the property. As it is, Green Tree Estates tenants are to be out by the end of 2019, he said.
Finding something nearby in the current housing market is just not a reality for most in the park, said Porta.
“The Lower Mainland has always been a hot spot but we get people in here speculating and buying housing. It’s just a shame,” he said.
But he acknowledged recent changes to City of Surrey policy got them a better deal.
“Surrey was proactive in bringing in this thing saying you have to pay people for what they have here (in manufactured home parks). Coquitlam was the first to do it and Surrey followed suit. The whole province needs to do it,” Porta said.
Tearing down seniors housing should come with a requirement to replace it, he stressed. Porta noted there are two other manufactured home parks next to his – that are not yet facing redevelopment – and both are home to even more seniors. He said he is worried for their future, as well.
Another issue for Porta is the loss of majestic trees due to the impending development, as well as the animals that call them home.
“There’s eagles, there’s hawks, there’s woodpeckers, there’s hare, there’s coyote,” he said.
“That’s another thing that bothers me. People in here have small animals, they talk to powers that be that controls the animals. There’s nothing we can do about it, they’re told it’s their habitat. So how can a developer come in and kick all of the (animals) out? It’s a double standard.”
Chandra Lal is another senior facing the unknown, having lived at the park for about eight years.
“When I bought this place, I had a little bit of money. I put money into this and fixed it up very good,” said Lal, 67, who retired last September. “This was going to be my retirement.”
For the compensation she’s received, about $120,000 by her estimate, Lal said she can’t buy a new mobile home, or even an apartment.
“I have no idea,” she said of her plans, “and I’m so confused right now. I don’t know what to do…. Most people are older here, 70, 80 years old. They took the money and said OK, we’re going into a (seniors) home. But me? I’m 67, I’m a strong lady, I’m doing everything. I can’t go to an old people’s home, it’s too early for me.”
The developer intends to demolish the roughly 80 homes on the southern part of the property and sought council’s approval to rezone the southern portion of the site, from Manufactured Home Residential to Multiple-Residential 30 and Single-Family Residential.
The portion of the property adjacent to Fraser Highway is to remain zoned for manufactured homes “until such time redevelopment is proposed.”
Ted Dawson, with the Surrey-based developer Dawson + Sawyer, spoke last at the May 7 public hearing and told city council of the company’s efforts to compensate tenants.
“Every single resident has chosen to enter into a legal and binding agreement with the applicant for the purchase of their manufactured home and the applicant will be demolishing all the manufactured homes on this property,” he said, noting the homes would go regardless of city approval to build the townhomes.
“Although we’re not relying on it, the applicant has adhered to and has far exceeded both the municipal and provincial policy on redevelopment of mobile home parks.”
Dawson said residents were given several options, and all chose “Option 1” which was to enter into a contract to sell their home based on an independent appraisal, in addition to a $20,000 “bonus” and other requirements.
“It’s kind of like two-and-a-half times more compensation than following the bare bones policy,” said Dawson.
In all, the company estimates it will be paying $11 million in compensation to the park’s residents.
Council heard the company has also hired a full-time property manager to help with “individual housing needs” including searching for new homes, helping locate assisted living facilities, if desired, and moving logistics.
“We understand that change is not always easy or welcome and we have made it our main focus to ensure that the residents of the property are not financially burdened or face hardship through this process,” said Dawson.
“We remain committed to ensuring suitable housing is found for all and that no one will be left behind,” he added.
Councillor Vera LeFranc asked whether the developer considered replacing the affordable housing stock.
“In the future, that will be a requirement,” she said, noting city council approved a new policy just weeks prior. “When we lose affordable housing there will need to be a one-to-one replacement.”
Dawson said that had been considered but “our choice was to focus on spending money at the individual level. If we were to do that, we would have less funds available for all the tenants.”
Councillor Tom Gill referred to the amount of compensation as “platinum.”
“You raised the bar considerably in terms of the options that you have put forward,” Gill told Dawson.
As for housing costs, Dawson told city council that in the context of the Lower Mainland there’s a “severe shortage” of three to four-bedroom family-oriented homes below $800,000 and that these three-storey Fleetwood townhomes would range from $550,000 to $700,000.
Dawson also noted the property is within close proximity to a future light rail transit station, at Fraser Highway and 160th Street.
“Infill development such as this is needed to help realize the city’s vision for LRT and to create a more vibrant, accessible, sustainable and connected Surrey,” he added.
He also pointed to community upgrades they have planned, including the installation of a traffic signal at 85th Avenue and Venture Way to help ease congestion, although several locals at the public hearing expressed concern about the amount of traffic on the roads, despite this promised upgrade.
Further, the developer will be conveying a 1,052-square-metre lot to the city for an “active” park, as well as a four-metre-wide walkway along the west property line.
But several of the park’s current tenants are left with a bad taste in their mouth.
Resident Roz Bailey is also with the Surrey Manufactured Home Owners Association, a group that advocated for stronger rights for tenants in these situations. As a result, the city created requirements for developers to compensate the tenants in such sites when they face redevelopment that goes beyond the provincially mandated compensation.
Bailey said she and her neighbours were the guinea pigs.
“I think it could be done a little bit better,” said Bailey. “They followed the letter of the policy but it was almost brutal in a way. It was hard and fast, sign up for this agreement and if you don’t, you don’t get this ($20,000) bonus.”
Bailey said some “felt bullied” through the process.
“It’s very hard,” she added. “In the City of Surrey it’s all very well and good to say the future lives here, but somehow there’s also the present that lives here, too. There’s a lot of angst.”
During the May 7 public hearing, Bailey asked Surrey city council to revisit and improve the policy. “You’ve got to tweak it some more. It’s coming along nicely, but I think it needs to be revised,” she said. “I think there has to be better communication. Some of the residents have been there for 30 years… they’re quite stricken, because they wanted to stay and age in place the way they’re supposed to.”
Councillor Vera LeFranc thanked Bailey for her support in developing the city’s policy in the first place.
“I think it is the strongest one in the province but if there are tweaks to be made I’m sure that we can have conversations and see if we can make those tweaks,” said LeFranc.
“It’s better to be poked with a sharp stick three times rather than 10 times, but it still hurts a little bit,” replied Bailey.
While most of the project opponents were park residents, Deb Jack of Surrey Environmental Partners expressed to council her concern about the loss of trees to make way for the townhouses.
While 103 of the 173 protected, large trees on the property are to be retained in this application, Jack said “as far as I can tell from the diagrams in the file, the 103, except for six, are all located on that later-to-be-developed northern half of this property.”
“I doubt very much if there’d be more than six kept,” Jack added. “With the greatest of respect, with a report like this, and a situation such as this, it gives the wrong impression about what it is that is being done and what it going to happen in the future. Essentially, this is going to be a clear-cut situation.”