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North Van's renoviction policy means these renters might be pushed out of the city

Owners are obligated to help displaced tenants find housing at similar rates, but the rule recognizes that’s not always possible

In a rare sight at North Vancouver city council on Monday, a group of renters living in a dilapidated apartment set for redevelopment pleaded for officials to help them stay in the municipality.

While council and the residents themselves acknowledged the building is at the end of its life, the tenants – most on fixed incomes – pay low rents and said they’ve yet to be presented with any other options they can afford.

At the public hearing for redevelopment of the property at 144 W 21st St., many of the councillors appeared to be moved by the calls for help. But they reasoned that the beat-up building couldn’t conscionably stay standing either. Acknowledging the tough decision, council noted the proposal had been thoughtfully revised by the applicant and would add needed rentals in a walkable urban area.

Ultimately, the rezoning application passed 6-1, with only Coun. Shervin Shahriari dissenting. He said he wasn’t satisfied that the to-be displaced tenants had been properly taken care of by the developer.

The first tenant to speak was Paul Puleston-Clarke, who has lived in the building for 25 years.

“Right now, we are potentially getting tossed out of there and we have nowhere to go,” he said. “The new options we’re being offered now are usually twice the price, which I just cannot afford.”

“I fear that I will have to leave North Vancouver,” Puleston-Clarke added.

Charles Duplessis, who’s been at the address for 16 years, noted that many of the tenants are on disability or pensions – some of them getting around $1,600 a month. He said that they had been given pamphlets for no-pet units starting in the $1,900-$2,100 per month range.

“That leaves nothing for hydro, food, anything else they might need,” he said. “They have no way of making more income.”

After decades of loyalty to the landlord, Duplessis said that the owners could at least provide units with roughly the same situation.

“We can tell that [the building] is dying. All we’re really asking is for the city to help us out,” he continued. “The idea of these people being forced onto the street terrifies me.”

City's renoviction policy 'quite broad'

Following the speakers, Shahriari asked city staff how these people haven’t found a suitable place to relocate, given the city’s policy that renoviction applicants must provide individualized support.

City planning lead Emma Chow said the 144 W 21st St. tenants would receive four-months’ rent and additional compensation for moving expenses as well as first right of refusal for units in the new building, which include seven mid-market rentals. According to city policy, a relocation co-ordinator must be made available for relocation assistance, ongoing communication and providing comparable listings on a regular basis.

“However, the policy is quite broad in the type of listings that can be provided,” Chow said. “It would depend on the market conditions of the time – if at all possible, to be within 10 per cent of the current rental rates. But that’s not always possible.”

Shahriari then put the question to the building owner if individualized support was provided to each of the tenants.

Daisen Gee-Wing, representing BDK Development Corp., said an experienced relocation co-ordinator – Jeff Nightingale of Prospero International Realty – had been hired to handle that file.

Gee-Wing said the co-ordinator was familiar with the requirements, and had “exceeded all responsibilities with tenant relocation.”

Ultimately, Shahriari said he liked some aspects of the proposal, but didn’t believe the tenants have been properly taken care of.

“I actually have visited about 10 of them … and I don’t have confidence that they’re going to find a place based on what we have heard today. And I don’t think that’s the community that I want to live in [where] we don’t support our current residents.”

Also at issue was the ailing condition of the building. Gee-Wing said that part of the reason why the rents were so low is because the building is at the end of its life. He noted that one of the walls has separated from the building, and a tarp had been covering it for years.

The owner came under fire in 2017 after defying attempts to upgrade the building to code despite several fines, multiple letters, inspections and messages urging compliance since 2011. Fire chief Greg Schalk said the building is currently in compliance with fire code, but that he would follow up with the building department on maintenance concerns.

'Extremely challenged' to deliver fixed-income housing

Closing out the discussions, Mayor Linda Buchanan was on the brink of tears as she expressed that hearing from displaced residents is one of the hardest things council has to do when redevelopments come before them.

“We are extremely, extremely challenged,” she said. “Not just here in the city but throughout the region, province, country … in trying to deliver the type of housing for people on fixed incomes.”

Buchanan implored the owner and staff to do everything possible to help the tenants find housing within the community.

She then thanked the applicant for listening to concerns, and that the new building will offer housing the area needs – close to shops and amenities, while meeting the official community plan. Buchanan said she was happy to support the project.

When completed, the new building will house 73 rental units in a five-storey building with underground parking. There will be 54 one-bedroom, 11 two-bedroom and eight three-bedroom units. The low-rise structure will replace the current three-storey building with its 35 units.

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