New Westminster is the first city in British Columbia to apply new rental residential tenure zoning to existing rental housing stock – much to the delight of tenants’ advocates and the disappointment of the development community.
Following a public hearing Monday night, 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: 214 Agnes St.; 211 11th St.; 215 10th St.; 514 13th St.; 425 12th St.; and 723 12th St.
“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, and housing agreements and restrictive covenants cannot be registered to title without the permission of a landowner under current provincial authorities that have been granted to the City of New Westminster.”
In late 2018, the city learned that a building on Ninth Street that had operated as rental since it was built in 1977 was being actively marketed for sale as condominium units.
Of the 23 people who spoke at Monday’s two-hour public hearing, nine voiced support for the bylaw and 14 urged the city to reject the plan.
Supporters, including tenants in New Westminster buildings and representatives of the New Westminster Tenants Union, stressed the need for the retention of affordable rental units in New West. They expressed concern about the difficulty tenants have finding affordable accommodations if they’re renovicted or displaced from their homes 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, which would result in more people on the street.
“New West is doing great things in this province. The whole province is watching. I hope the whole country is watching because renters like me need protection. Renters like my friends, my fellow employees, senior citizens, people on disability, we all need help,” she told council. “I think you guys are doing great. I think this bylaw is great. I am fully in support and thank you for putting in the effort.”
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 questioned the legality of the city’s decision to downzone their properties, the way the city is applying the rental tenure zoning and the lack of consultation before adopting the bylaw.
Ally Jiwan, CEO of Redbrick Properties, said the city is unilaterally removing the rights of these property owners to have condominium tenure and not giving them anything in return. He said the rental tenure zoning should only be used as a tool to encourage new rental housing supply – not as a penalty or preservation tool.
“I want to voice our extreme caution to using rental tenure zoning as you are proposing to use it. We think it’s very draconian move the way you are proposing to use it,” he told council. “You must be careful not to downzone property value and property rights.”
Dana Sair, who owns Geordie Place at 723 12th St. with her two siblings, said her family built the building almost 25 years ago with assets from the family business they’d sold and planned to use it for their retirements. Saying the rezoning could “decimate” their retirement savings, she appealed to the city to exempt the building from the rezoning.
“We have also paid thousands of dollars in higher taxes over the years, much more than if this was a purpose-built rental building,” she said. “It is not a building in danger of renoviction, which is understandably a major problem. Nothing will change the way it is run by simply imposing this zoning bylaw on it. We are not going to renovict anybody. We are not developers.”
Council unanimously supported the bylaw.
Coun. Patrick Johnstone said it would be “deadly” for him if council doesn’t approve this rezoning and the current owners decide to sell to people who have different ideas for the buildings and tenants are displaced.
“As an elected official I am tired of saying, ‘I can’t do anything to help you.’ I am not saying this is a perfect tool; I am saying this is one tool we have. I feel if I have an opportunity to protect those 250 people I am going to take it,” he said. “We all want certainty. I know the people who own these buildings want certainty and to me right now, the crisis for certainty is people who don’t have a place to live or are precariously living in a place where if they are evicted they will not be able to find another affordable place to live in this community. It’s their certainly that I am prioritizing right now with this decision.”
The adoption of this bylaw is a component of a larger rental housing revitalization initiative, which council endorsed on Jan. 14. The city is holding an opportunity to be heard on Feb. 4 regarding proposed amendments to business regulations and licensing (rental units) bylaw to add new business licensing restrictions against renovictions.