Our View: New West council keeps promise on bold housing changes

New Westminster made history last week when it became the first city in British Columbia to apply new rental residential tenure zoning to existing rental housing stock.

How you react to this bit of history likely depends on whether you are a renter or a landlord or developer.

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Following a public hearing, council approved a zoning amendment bylaw that would add site-specific rental tenure restrictions to specific properties in the city. In addition to 12 city-owned properties that could be used for future municipal housing projects, the bylaw applies to six existing stratified buildings that have operated as rental buildings.

“Bylaw 8078 responds to the current housing crisis and the current renovictions crisis,” said Emilie Adin, the city’s director of development services. “The situation is that the moratorium on strata conversions cannot protect rental tenure in stratified buildings. The residential rental tenure zoning is the only city-led initiative that can be undertaken to protect rental tenure of the buildings.”

The reaction to council’s decision was swift from renters in New West.

Ann Hawboldt, who rents an apartment in New Westminster, said the city could lose rental units in these buildings if the current owners decided to sell.

“New West is doing great things in this province,” she said.

“The whole province is watching. I hope the whole country is watching because renters like me need protection.”

She’s right – the whole province is watching.

Representatives from property and development companies, Landlord BC and the Urban Development Institute were among those who voiced concerns about the city’s plan. They have raised the spectre of scaring off future rental developments – a fair point and a possible unintended consequence.

Developers are also questioning the legality of the new rules. It remains to be seen if the city will be challenged in court on this issue, but that is common for new legislation.

Someone has to be first and sometimes that means landing in court to test legislation.

One landlord told council their property is family owned and that they have no plans to sell the rental building, so renovictions won’t happen.

But as Coun. Patrick Johnstone rightly pointed out, the city can’t bank on the promise that someone won’t sell in the future to a developer who will renovict, or demovict, the tenants.

Council took things even further on Monday night with a unanimous vote on new rules that will restrict building owners from renovicting tenants.

Owners who don’t comply could have their business licences revoked.

Council ran on the promise to make bold changes to protect the rental stock.

They’ve kept their promise.

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