The White Birch proposal for a six-storey rental-only building for 1485 Fir St. (Contributed rendering)

The White Birch proposal for a six-storey rental-only building for 1485 Fir St. (Contributed rendering)

Majority voice support for 80-unit rental redevelopment in White Rock

Resident fearful of being priced out of the city, council told at public hearing

The majority of residents who spoke at a City of White Rock public hearing Monday evening (Jan. 18) did so to voice their support of the 80-unit, six-storey rental building proposed for 1485 Fir St., replacing an aging three-storey rental building.

However, one of the existing building’s residents, who spoke against the redevelopment, shared her fear of being priced out of White Rock.

“I’m quite scared right now,” Peggy Best told council during a virtual public hearing for the property, which is currently home to a 24-unit rental building, built in 1965.

Best said, with the salary she earns, her rent is affordable at less than $1,000 per month. However, she’s worried about finding a new place to live that’s within her budget once she’s asked to leave the property.

“If I have to move, I’m not going to be able to afford anything in White Rock,” she said. “I’m very stressed out by this move.”

The developer of the property, Mahdi Heidari, who purchased it in October 2018, has put forward a compensation and relocation package for existing tenants of the building.

The package is to cover the cost of moving, offer additional compensation for tenants impacted by the development, reduce rental rates for those who wish to return to the new building, and provide tenants three housing options – either in White Rock or within a five-kilometre radius – that are comparable.

During the public hearing, Best, who has lived in the building for three years, was told that if the redevelopment were to go through, she would receive approximately $9,000 compensation from the developer. She was also told that if she wanted to move back into the apartment once it’s complete, she would receive a monthly discount of 23 per cent below market rate.

RELATED: White Rock 80-unit rental-only project goes to public hearing

“So if market rate is $1,500, I’m looking at around $1,300, which I definitely can’t afford,” Best said.

She told council she may be left with no option but to quit her job, leave the city and move in with her parents, who live out of town.

“I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m wondering what my options are and it’s scary.”

Best was one of four people opposed to the project, while eight people spoke in support. As of Jan. 18, the city has received 59 submissions from the public.

Of those submissions, 33 people were in support of the redevelopment, 20 were against and the remainder were general comments on the project.

Existing building residents who spoke in favour of the project spoke highly of not only the proposed structure and its amenities, but of how Heidari is treating current residents and the compensation he’s offering.

Not only were a number of residents of the current building in support of it being redeveloped, so were others who don’t live in the city.

Ian Middleton said his parents are planning to retire in White Rock next year, and they’ve been searching for a rental building.

He said after his parents move to White Rock, Middleton and his family intend to follow.

“They need elevators, need up-to-date amenities, parking, and they just want to feel safe and secure,” Middleton told council. “Part of the reason I want to move is I want to be close to them. I’ve always lived close to them and they’re getting older now.”

Middleton noted that he has two young children, and he wants to live in a building that is clean, safe, and “not 50 years old.”

“Unfortunately, White Rock doesn’t seem to have that available for rental units. Yes, (White Rock) has 20-storey concrete buildings for sale, condos for sale, but we don’t know if we want to spend that sort of money right now. It seems there’s no middle ground,” Middleton said.

The encouragement to increase the rental stock in the city was echoed by a several speakers who were in support of the project.

RELATED: White Rock council increases compensation for displaced tenants

Heidari said rental buildings in White Rock tend to be older and lack many of the amenities often found in condominium buildings, such as ample storage and secure parking.

“I believe it’s not fair for someone who’s looking to rent something in White Rock that has good amenities.

“The only option for them, right now, is to rent a condo unit because right now most of the older buildings don’t have those type of amenities. And to rent condo units, as we all know, the costs are quite high,” Heidari said at the meeting.

Heidari was questioned by Coun. Anthony Manning regarding the safety of relocating tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heidari said that if they receive all the necessary approvals, he doesn’t expect the project to move to demolition until mid-summer. He noted that health officials have been optimistic that 60 to 70 per cent of the population could be vaccinated by that time.

“If, by any chance, COVID cases jumped up and things were out of control and it was not advised for tenants to be relocated, we can decide at that time to give more time to tenants,” Heidari said.

The property is subject to new protections granted to tenants by the city late last year.

At its Oct. 19 regular meeting, council voted unanimously to support the recommendation from its land use and planning committee which relates directly to tenant relocation and what’s expected of developers.

The intention of Council Policy 514 and Council Policy 511 was to trade-off amenity contributions required of rental-building developers for higher density, in exchange for increased compensation for displaced tenants.

Under the new policy, tenants are to receive four months’ rent for those with less than one year’s residence, increasing in two-month increments for each year (29 months’ rent for tenants with 15 years of residence, for example).

Compensation can reach a maximum of 44 months’ rent for tenants who have been in their building 30 years or longer.

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