Delta council has adopted two new policies designed to protect tenants as the housing crisis continues to worsen.
The two policies are a rental stock protection policy and a tenant relocation policy. The first requires no net loss of purpose-built rental units as a result of redevelopment, while the second lays out city requirements on timelines, communication and compensation to tenants who have to move as a result of redevelopment plans for the property.
Surrey has had a tenant relocation policy in place since 2018 as part of its affordable housing strategy. Like the new Delta policy, it relies on the permit and approval process to enforce the requirements.
In Delta, according to the North Delta Reporter, “the city will have no direct role in enforcing (a relocation) agreement or mediating conflicts between developers and tenants.”
This, plus other aspects of the policies, leave large gaps which are of no help to tenants. In Surrey, the policy does not apply unless the property slated for redevelopment has six purpose-built rental units or more. In Delta, that number is reduced slightly to five.
While cities have limited means to enforce many of their bylaws and policies, a process that calls for significant compensation to tenants and a pledge that they must be able rent a unit in the new building at below-market rates is simply another incentive for many developers not to build new purpose-built rentals. If they can do so on a greenfield property (one that is not developed) it may well make sense, but the relocation policies are significant barriers to replacing existing rental stock with new purpose-built rental buildings.
Delta recognizes that the existing stock is in significant peril on a large scale in coming years. There are 1,740 purpose-built rental units in Delta. Of these, 62 per cent were built before 1980.
An example in Surrey demonstrates what is most likely to happen. Major new multi-unit developments are being built along Fraser Highway in Fleetwood. They will be adjacent to the new SkyTrain line. The new buildings are going up on the site of former manufactured home parks. Park residents are not covered by the tenant relocation policy. They only rent the pad space, not the home, which most of them own.
The policies in both Surrey and Delta do not cover tenants in individual detached homes, condominiums, suites, duplexes or coach houses. In both cities, a significant number (quite possibly a majority) of tenants live in such units.
An appendix to the Surrey policy makes for very interesting reading. The policy calls for developers to provide three housing alternatives for tenants who are forced to leave, at “no more than 10 per cent above Canada Mortgage and Housing average rent.”
The appendix shows the average rents in Surrey in 2018, as calculated by CMHC. They were $774 for a bachelor unit, $978 for a one-bedroom, $1,151 for a two-bedroom and $1,307 for a three-bedroom. Such rents look like something from another century, when compared to 2023 rental rates, particularly for people who have had to move and no longer have any rent-increase protections under the Residential Tenancy Act.
The cost of housing today is a disgrace, and puts far too many people into very difficult situations. Policies such as these are of modest help, but do not address the fundamental problems in a meaningful way.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Black Press Media.