Seniors plead to Surrey council ahead of public hearing for 1,000-plus unit development

In June, seniors in the buildings said they felt ‘left in the cold’ as plans for redevelopment materialized

A proposal to tear down a pair of aging Whalley apartment buildings and replace them with several towers has some of the building’s residents concerned about where they’ll end up.

There are currently 154 apartments between the two buildings at 10138 Whalley Boulevard and 10139 137A Street.

All told, the 154 apartments there now would be replaced by 1,126.

If approved by council, developer Rize Alliance Properties intends to replace them with three high-rise towers (23-storey, 32-storey and 39-storey), two 13-storey rental buildings with 172 apartments and another six-storey apartment.

Ground-level retail space and a daycare facility is also proposed.

Surrey council gave first and second reading to the official community plan and the zoning bylaw amendments for the development, as well as scheduled a public hearing for Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.

Council also gave first, second and third reading to the housing agreement.

Only Councillor Steven Pettigrew voted against the application.

READ ALSO: Seniors feel ‘left in the cold’ as Surrey apartments eyed for redevelopment, June 7, 2019

In a letter to mayor and council, a current resident on the site Brenda Vidovic said the City of Surrey is “experiencing a crisis” when it comes to “demovictions and the lack of and availability of other low-cost housing.”

“Vulnerable seniors on fixed pensions, low income working families, couples, singles as well as the disabled and newcomers to the City of Surrey are facing living on the street, in shelters or going without food if they have to rent at current market prices, if and when they can find an available suite,” the letter reads.

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From left: Cathy Chouinard, Carole Hohlbein and Brenda Vidovic stand in front of their Whalley apartment building last June. It’s being eyed for redevelopment. (Photo: Amy Reid)

In her letter, Vidovic states that according to studies by “every level of government in North America,” seniors are considered an at-risk group for “deteriorating health both cognitive and physical.”

“Considering the losses we are facing if this demoviction goes ahead without plans to secure alternate housing for these seniors in particular, the City of Surrey will have a human crisis on their hands.”

If the multi-highrise development is approved, Vidovic says the residents “anticipate” a two- to three-year waitlist through BC Housing; “exorbitant” rents of $1,000 to $1,600 for a one-bedroom in any new builds or basement suites; separate costs for hookups of utilities, including hydro, telephone and cable services; incidental costs “associated with the change to our IDs;” increased costs for transportation; and “stress-related health problems.”

Vidovic says the tenants of the current site are asking council to either “delay the demoviction permit” for two years or require Rize to provide compensation for a “minimum” of one year at the current market value.

The residents are also asking the city to amend its current compensation policy to “reflect the need in compensation” and to require that Rize dedicate more than one person to assist the residents in finding housing “at or near our current rent.”

In planning documents, staff note concerns over displacement have been expressed to the city.

City planners said Surrey does have a tenant assistance policy and that the applicant, “in accordance with that policy,” has a person working with each tenant individually “and negotiating with them on a case-by-case basis based on their unique needs.”

Pettigrew said the city received a 51-person petition against the proposed development.

“This is the second time seniors have come to us and asked for more time for an extra person to be able to help them with the relocation process,” he said at the Dec. 2 meeting. “Unless this applicant can make a serious effort to actually consider staff’s request to implement the (the policy) and to look at the affordable rental stock, I will not be supporting this application.”

He said rental stock is “critically important” for the citizens of Surrey, “but so is affordable rental stock and we have to be aware of gentrification.”

Rize previously told the Now-Leader that it is committed to working with residents to help them relocate. In its application to council, Rize indicates that 21 of the units are vacant as of Oct. 7.

Staff say in planning documents that the proposal “partially complies” with the city’s Rental Replacement and Tenant Relocation Assistance policy.

“Existing rental housing units are proposed to be replaced at a higher than 1:1 replacement ratio, however, the 172 proposed rental replacement units are proposed to be provided at market rental rates rather than at affordable rental rates for low to moderate income households (defined as 10 per cent below current Canadian Market and Housing Corporations average rents) in accordance with the policy,” the document indicates.

Despite that, staff support the proposal proceeding to public hearing.

The justification for the recommendation is that the mixed-use aspect of the proposal will “complement” the city’s downtown core; that Rize has proposed a variety of in-kind amenities and cash-in-lieu to address the proposed density bump; that the site is within 500 metres of SkyTrain; among other rationale.

But staff do request that Rize “determine what density they would require in order to provide all or a percentage of the proposed market rental units at 10 per cent below CMHC rental rates.”

They note that the policy recommendation to provide new replacement units at that rate “represents an undue burden on this new development in the absence of significant government subsidy or density increase over what is currently proposed.”

In June, more than a half dozen senior residents of the building met with the Now-Leader, expressing their frustration and worry about the proposal.

“The stress it’s creating. The mental stress. Not knowing where you’re going to live,” said 61-year-old Mary Heistad at the time, 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?”

Another resident, 75-year-old Beverly Palmer, sent a letter to city hall outlining her concerns earlier this year. 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 added.

In June, Rize told the Now-Leader that tenants were being offered three months rent, either as a lump sum payment, free rent, or a combination of both. A letter to residents stated that “longer term tenancies will be provided with additional compensation on a scale relating to the length of tenancy.”

Tenants are also being offered money to cover moving expenses.

“We will support them through this transition process and are committed to treating each tenant equitably, fairly and compassionately,” indicated a statement from Rize to the Now-Leader earlier this year, adding that there is a “resident support specialist” working one-on-one with tenants.

Rize said at the time that tenants could remain on the site through 2020 and possibly into 2021.

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.”

A phased occupancy is proposed for the project, with the first hoped to open in May 2023, the second in June 2024 and the final in August of that year. The school district projects 38 students from the development, 27 at Lena Shaw Elementary and 11 at Guildford Park Secondary.

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.”

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(Rendering shows the planned redevelopment in Whalley. Photo: surrey.ca)

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



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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