BCIT News: Rapid development in Surrey City Centre displacing low-income renters

Posted

Rachel Adams, Maria Diment, Jayden Jhutti, Steven Low, Dom Vallee, BCIT News, December 4 (with mention of BCNPHA)

Emerging housing crisis in Surrey City Centre

Surrey’s population is constantly growing as more people look to the city for cheaper housing. This is no different for Surrey City Centre, located in the neighbourhood of Whalley; which has had even more rapid growth compared to Surrey as whole. Between 2011 and 2016, the City Centre had a population growth of 18 per cent compared to 11 per cent average for Surrey as a whole.

Homelessness in the city of Surrey is also on the rise. The most recent survey from the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association shows a steady increase in homeless rates over the years. This year has the highest homeless population at 644.

Surrey City Councillor Brenda Locke said that there is a desperate need for rental stock in Surrey. She said Surrey is the worst in all of Metro Vancouver in terms of available rental units.

Surrey’s rental crisis only grows worse in more dense areas such as Surrey City Centre. More than half of residents (57 percent) rent in the city centre. Of those renters 43 percent spend more than 30 percent of their household income on rent. As rent increases, that percentage is likely to increase as well.

As people migrate into the city, rental vacancies have come to an all-time low: 0.4 percent in 2018. Vacancies have been rapidly declining since 2012 and dropped below Metro Vancouver’s vacancy rate for the first time in 2016. A 2019 report from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation shows Surrey’s vacancy rate sitting at 0.5 percent.

Purpose-built rentals are meant to aid the city with their housing supply issues by developing specifically for the rental market. But until 2016, no purpose-built rentals were constructed since the 90s. This has led to a shortage of this type of development. Between 2016 and 2018, only two purpose-built rentals were built in Surrey, one of those being in the city centre in Whalley.

The Passages not required to rent below market-value

The Passages is a mixed use and residential mid to high rise project in the Central Business District. The project is located at 102 Avenue and Whalley Boulevard and will replace the current Fraserview Court Rental buildings. The development will include three high-rise residential towers and two 13-story mid-rise market rental towers, one 6-storey apartment building and ground level retail space.

However it does not follow certain city ordinances meant to protect residents from displacement.

The development is part of the Surrey City Centre Plan, a long-term project as part of the the city’s vision of a new downtown core for Surrey and the metropolitan centre for the Fraser Valley. The city wants to grow and diversify its city centre and it plans on doing that by constructing new and replacing old structures with higher density mixed-use projects.

Surrey City Councillor Laurie Guerra said this project is important because it increases the amount of available rentals units on the market.

Guerra said the project complies with Surrey Affordable Housing Strategy in that it includes rental housing development. Councillor Locke also supports the project. She said the City of Surrey really needs rental units right now.

Councillor Locke said The Passages by Rize Alliance will provide some of that rental stock that the city needs. She said it will provide more housing units than the current buildings offer. Locke said it is appropriate that these buildings are coming down because of their age, and are “probably not maintained to the degree that they should be.”

However, there has not been unanimous support for the project. Councillor Steven Pettigrew voted in opposition during the original City Council meeting on December 2, 2019 when the project was brought forward and approved. He said the planning report is not in compliance with Surrey City Policy O-61.

The policy, “Rental Housing Redevelopment: Rental Replacement and Tenant Relocation Assistance” is meant to aid in the rental shortage as the City Centre develops rapidly and old purpose-built rentals get replaced. It requires developers tearing down rental housing to replace all rental units being replaced. The policy also requires developers to provide units as “affordable rentals” for low to moderate income households.

Affordable rentals are defined as being priced 10 per cent below the market average. In 2019, the average rent in Surrey is $1,161, less 10 percent would be approximately $1045. That would take up more than 20 per cent of the average income in Surrey City Centre, and that’s not telling how much that would take up for a lower income household. Many people wouldn’t be able to afford the increase in prices as the city averages don’t take low-income into account. As a result, people begin to get displaced.

Rize Alliance is not meeting this standard of renting units below market-value. The planning report submitted to City Council for the December 2 meeting proposes all 172 units be provided at market rental rate rather than at below-market rates that are affordable rates for low to moderate income households.

Councilor Guerra said the reason for this is that if Rize did offer the 172 rental units at below-market value, the project would become uneconomical. She said that is the rationale behind this project not being held to this part of the policy – because they are providing more units than are being torn down.

Councillor Locke said Rize has assured her that they are taking measures to assist tenants of the current building. She said that residents moving in since the approval of the project are told that their leases will be short-term, or will only be given short-term leases. It is unclear what assistance has been given or promised to long-term renters in the current building.

Housing advocates worry new development will accelerate gentrification and development

Housing advocates in Surrey are not so optimistic about the plans for redevelopment. Many are saying that although the city does need more rental stock in general, development needs to happen in a way that does not displace lower-income residents who have established their lives and communities in the area.

Sources B.C Housing Support Manager, Jay Blaschuk said there is a lack of affordable housing in Surrey overall. He said the influx of renters seeking relief from sky-rocketing rents in other regions of Metro Vancouver into the city has pushed the prices up in Surrey, too.

This process, known as gentrification, not only displaces lower income people from their residences but from their entire communities and support systems as well.

Blaschuk said there are multiple challenges once low-income people get displaced from urban centres. He said finding a suitable location isn’t simple. It has to be along a good public transit route, close to services such as their family doctor, close to grocery stores and other amenities as not everyone can afford a vehicle and insurance. Blaschuk said once someone moves away from their community they have to reestablish all these parts of their daily lives or else have to take long commutes to where they lived before moving.

“People who are facing displacement are losing their community. Their friends, their family, their contacts, their doctors, their services, their stores. What their community is to them, they end up having to move away from, so they either need to travel back to that community to keep their doctor, keep going to the grocery store or they need to go move somewhere else and restart that.” – Jay Blaschuk, Housing Support Manager, Sources B.C.

Advocate and member for Red Braid Alliance, Isabel Krupp, said she is worried about the Surrey Centre Plan for development. Krupp has been organizing for people experiencing homelessness and low-income individuals in Whalley for the past two years.

She said the process will accelerate and incentivize the private sector development and displace low-income people in the process. Krupp said she has seen similar patterns in other urban regions in Metro Vancouver contribute to the process of gentrification.

Advocate and member for Red Braid Alliance, Isabel Krupp, said she is worried about the Surrey Centre Plan for development. Krupp has been organizing for people experiencing homelessness and low-income individuals in Whalley for the past two years.

She said the process will accelerate and incentivize the private sector development and displace low-income people in the process. Krupp said she has seen similar patterns in other urban regions in Metro Vancouver contribute to the process of gentrification.

Surrey is growing and a rapid rate with hopes of creating a downtown core similar to Vancouver’s. These are planned office towers in Surrey City Centre.

Krupp also said that telling renters their lease is short-term when they move in is not acceptable as assistance in the circumstance of the Rize development. She said that although people may enter willingly into such a contract, they may not have a choice at the time and take what they can get.

Back to News