This story has been amended to clarify which below-market units remain empty.
Dozens of affordable housing units in a brand new seniors building in Lynn Valley are sitting empty because the non-profit organization operating the site cannot find enough seniors who meet eligibility requirements.
“Intuitively, most people would say, there’s got to be lots of people on the North Shore who are looking for affordable housing,” said Kiwanis North Shore Housing Society president Patrick McLaughlin. “In the meantime, we have 61 of these units that are sitting vacant when we believe that there are residents in the community who are in need of affordable housing.”
In 2018, Kiwanis received $10.6 million from BC Housing toward its 106-unit, six-storey Lynn Woods seniors housing project on Whiteley Court. When the District of North Vancouver rezoned the property in 2019, the bylaw specified that the building would be for residents 65 and older, which is in keeping with the mandate for the Kiwanis society.
McLaughlin appeared before a special meeting of District of North Vancouver council July 28, 2022, to request that council amend the bylaw and lower the minimum age of residents allowed to live at Lynn Woods from 65 to 55.
In an interview, McLaughlin said there appears to be a major disconnect between the demographics Lynn Woods was designed for and the eligibility criteria BC Housing stipulates.
Under the rules of BC Housing’s Community Housing Fund, 20 per cent of the homes must be offered at shelter rates of $375 per month exclusively for low-income residents on BC Housing’s waitlist. Half of the suites must be offered at no more than 30 per cent of the annual income for people earning up to $57,000 per year. And the remaining rentals would be below-market and reserved for households in the moderate income range to a max of $77,430.
There has been no difficulty finding tenants for the low-income apartments. The ones for seniors with higher incomes are the problem.
“We’ve got 61 one-bedroom apartments in there that are going to range from $750 to $1570 a month, based on those incomes. Those are very affordable rents on the North Shore,” McLaughlin said.
But by the age of 65, most seniors no longer fall within that income range, McLaughlin noted. So far, they’ve only found two eligible tenants.
Lynn Woods has been the only seniors-only affordable housing building approved under that particular BC Housing funding program.
“Those are the parameters under which we have to operate,” he said. “It’s not designed for a seniors project. The program is designed for individuals, families, and seniors with no age limit.”
Further complicating the issue, Kiwanis has its own rule that the units can’t go to people who own more than $400,000 in assets, to ensure subsidized rentals are going to people truly in need.
Mayor Mike Little called a special, unscheduled meeting just days into council’s summer break because it was an “emergent and urgent” issue, he told council.
More than having empty homes that could be put to better use, the vacancies are hurting the non-profit because the business case of the new housing assumed there would be higher occupancy and therefor revenue for Kiwanis to keep things going.
At issue for council July 28 was whether or not to use, for the first time, a new power granted by the province to waive the requirement for a public hearing before amending the bylaw. Council members expressed little worry about whether a public hearing would be necessary, given the broad public support for the project and the urgent need to make the change before the Oct. 15 elections.
“It has very dire financial consequences for the organization if we don’t consider the matter,” Little said.
Kiwanis has done traditional advertising for the empty suites for the last four months. Soon they’ll be marketing them via social media and mail-outs, and to help fill the rooms they will be offering the first month of rent for free.
McLaughlin beams when he talks about the building and what it offers: brand new one-bedroom apartments, a large amenity room with full kitchen, an arts and crafts room, electric vehicle charging, and secure bicycle storage, all just steps away from Lynn Valley Centre.
“It’s a beautiful building,” he said. “There are a lot of amenities within the building that make it, I think, a really attractive place to live.”
Council will vote on lowering the age for Lynn Woods on Sept. 19. The best case scenario, McLaughlin said, would be to have all the rooms spoken for before council sits again.
“We know there’s a huge need and that’s been our mandate for many years,” he said “And we are convinced that there are people out there that want to move into this building if they learn more about it.”