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Seniors feel ‘left in the cold’ as Surrey apartments eyed for redevelopment

Developer stresses commitment to working with residents to help them relocate
From left: Cathy Chouinard, Carole Hohlbein and Brenda Vidovic stand in front of their Whalley apartment building that’s being eyed for redevelopment. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Standing in the lobby of their Surrey apartment building, more than a half dozen seniors express their frustration and worry over a developer eyeing their apartments for redevelopment.

“The stress it’s creating. The mental stress. Not knowing where you’re going to live,” says Mary Heistad, 61, tearing up. “How you’re going to pay for it. Are you going to have enough money to eat? Are you going to live long enough to see it?”

Heistad, who has been undergoing dialysis for about a year, has lived at the building for five years.

“I don’t know when my life’s going to end, but I’m going to fight,” she said. “We need help, and we need it bad. We don’t deserve this. And what, so somebody can feather their pockets with more money? We suffer? And we do.”

Rize Alliance Properties has submitted a rezoning application to the City of Surrey, intending to tear down a pair of buildings that contain 154 apartments at 10139 137A Street and 10138 Whalley Boulevard.

In their place, Rize proposes to build 1,070 residential units, 154 of which would be “purpose-built market rentals.” Six building are envisioned, in all: three 20-plus-storey condo towers, two 11- to 13-storey rental towers and a six-storey wood frame condo building. Rize envisions an “open city block, with free-flowing public space at its heart, lined by a mix of uses which aim to serve its residents and the wider City of Surrey.”

(Rendering of Rize Alliance’s proposed development. Submitted photo)

Tenants are being offered three months rent, either as a lump sum payment, free rent, or a combination of both. A letter to residents from Rize states that “longer term tenancies will be provided with additional compensation on a scale relating to the length of tenancy.”

Tenants who’ve resided there for more than five years are also being offered money to cover moving expense.

The news for these residents comes as an estimated 200 seniors also face an uncertain future as another developer is applying to redevelop their Fleetwood manufactured home park, at 8560 156th St. And, dozen of seniors already relocated from another Fleetwood manufactured home park where developer Dawson + Sawyer is in the midst of tearing down vacant structures at Green Tree Estates, to build townhouses and apartments.

But several residents in the existing Whalley apartment building tell the Now-Leader they worry how they will pay their rent if they are ultimately forced to relocate at current market rates.

“The most I can pay is $750. But where?” said Heistad, noting that she receives $1,200 a month on disability. “What I get to live on, I can barely live on now.”

SEE ALSO: Surrey seniors face relocation as manufactured home park eyed for redevelopment

READ MORE: Dozens of Surrey seniors relocating after city OKs manufactured home park redevelopment, May 17, 2018

VIDEO: Surrey residents still living at manufactured home park during demolition, April 13, 2019

Another resident, 75-year-old Beverly Palmer, has sent a letter to city hall outlining her concerns. Palmer wrote that she understands it is important for Surrey to develop, but asks “at what cost?”

“There has been many low income/seniors/handicapped residents that have been left in the cold with no reasonable options,” Palmer wrote.

“I am sure that you are aware of the increase of homelessness in Surrey – is this the legacy that we have to offer seniors? Many seniors are on a low income and have no reasonable option for living accommodations when these very comfortable, affordable apartments are being torn down and replaced with very expensive condominiums or rental apartments. How many of these new replacement apartments are available to low income/seniors/handicapped Surrey residents?”

Palmer adds that she, unfortunately, is among that group and the apartments planned to replace hers “will not be affordable to others or me in these buildings, tenants who are on a low income.”

She writes that some tenants have already moved, she notes, “because they feel they have to, because they are afraid.”

“Fear or not having any place to live and be forced on the street or some dilapidated building is no option.”

Brenda Vidovic, 69, has lived at the apartment building for 13 years.

“I joke around and say I’m going to have to move to Hope. But even Hope is getting expensive because we’re going further and further east, Chilliwack. All those rents have gone up now, too. People like us seniors are being put out,” she said, adding that the apartments are also home to many refugee families. Vidovic urged the city to do more to retain affordable housing that exists.

“I’d like them to subsidize us somehow, if we have to go into a condo or something. That’s $1,100 a month or something. Don’t put the crazy police force in at millions of dollars. People, us, are suffering through this,” she said.

(One of the two apartment buildings 10139 137A St. and 10138 Whalley Blvd. Photo: Amy Reid)

Another resident, 68-year-old Carole Hohlbein, said she “doesn’t have a clue” where she’s going to move.

“It’s not affordable anymore. Seniors income isn’t a high income. Many of us are singles living here. So it’s not two incomes, it’s one,” said Hohlbein.

Cathy Chouinard, 55, is also concerned about the prospect of relocating.

“I like it because it’s close to all my doctors,” she said, adding that she has schizophrenia and needs to be near her medical professionals. “And everything’s close by, the Save-On and everything.”

An emailed statement from Rize Alliance said “we are aware that this project, if approved, would cause significant upheaval in the lives of our current tenants.”

“We will support them through this transition process and are committed to treating each tenant equitably, fairly and compassionately,” the statement adds. “We have provided a resident support specialist who is working one-on-one with tenants to address each person’s scenario and find relocation options. Tenants have been offered the first right of refusal on the new rental suites at BC Housing rates. To help ease the financial burden on tenants, we are also providing financial compensation over and above the City of Surrey’s requirements.”

Rize says tenants can remain on the site through 2020 and possibly into 2021.

Rize described the existing buildings as “aging,” highlighting its plan to “replace the rental units with new, durable concrete rental homes run by a non-profit society and rented at rates in line with BC Housing guidelines” adding they are “in discussions with BC Housing with the goal of increasing affordability in the rental homes.”

(A development sign is up in front of a pair of Whalley apartments that Rize Alliance Properties intends to redevelop. Photo: Amy Reid)

Chris Vollan, president of projects for Rize Alliance, said a number of tenants have expressed interest in renting those future units.

“So the rental replacement buildings will be run by a non-profit. That’s one of the requirements of the city program for rental replacement,” he said.

“They will be rented at rates set by BC Housing. We’re still in very early conversations with BC Housing.”

Any tenants who express interest will be able to obtain a rental unit in the new building, said Vollan.

“They don’t have to go through BC Housing, that will go through us,” Vollan added.

Head of communications for Rize, Steven Cox, stressed that the company is “with them throughout this entire process.”

“We’ve met one-on-one now with almost everyone in the building,” he said.

“I know it’s hard, we know these types of situations can be extremely difficult for people, especially people in the older ages of the building, but we keep talking to them about the fact that we have a significant amount of time.”

That’s little comfort to Vidovic, who said, “we are just the start of these demovictions in Surrey.”

“No matter what a pretty picture Rize wants to paint about working with each tenant, supporting each tenant and offering to take us back in after new buildings are complete, the disruptions to our lives is having and will have ill effects on our health,” Vidovic added.

“We are not going quietly.”

Rize Alliance’s development application is currently in the “initial review” stage in the city’s planning department. Surrey city council has yet to consider it.

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