Martha J. Lewis: Impact of Olympics on Vancouver tenants less than feared

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      By Martha J. Lewis

      What impact have the around-the-corner Winter Olympic Games had on rental housing, rents, and evictions in Vancouver?

      A lot less impact than we had feared.

      Vancouver remains one of the most expensive cities to live in within Canada, although in 2009, due to the economic downturn, the increase in rents slowed. According to the fall 2009 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rental Market Report, average rents for a Vancouver apartment rose 2.9 percent in 2009 compared to 4.3 percent in 2008.

      Vacancy rates improved. The rental apartment vacancy rate in Vancouver increased to 2.1 percent following several years of vacancies below one percent—still below the national average and among the worst rates in the country. The higher vacancy rates are attributed to a slowdown in employment and a shift to home ownership because of historically low interest rates. The change in vacancy rates in investor-owned condominiums was notable—from 0.6 percent in October 2008 to 1.7 percent in October 2009.

      What does this have to do with the impact of the 2010 Games? The improved vacancy rate should make it easier for Olympic visitors to find accommodation in unrented homes and condos without the owners being tempted to displace sitting tenants.

      As for evictions for the Olympics, at this point we have not heard of many. It’s hard to determine the effect on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, considering all the factors at play there. As for the rest of Vancouver, how much of the low impact on rental housing is due to normal demand and supply, and how much is due to public education? The City of Vancouver passed a temporary accommodation bylaw so that landlords who wanted to rent out units for the Olympics could apply for a temporary accommodation permit or face a fine. It also prohibited them from renting out any unit that was occupied by a tenant after June 1, 2009. The city established an on-line tenant registry for tenants concerned they might be evicted because of the Olympics. So far 193 tenants have registered.

      The B.C. Apartment Owners and Managers Association and the Rental Owners and Managers Society of B.C., two landlord groups who represent many of the landlords in B.C., especially those with multi-unit buildings, advised their members that it would be folly to evict sitting tenants for the Games. As the Olympics are only a three-week event, why evict a good sitting tenant?

      With only a few weeks left before the Olympics, we don’t anticipate many landlords evicting tenants for landlord use of property or renovations because those evictions require a two-month notice period.

      Another factor is the economic slowdown that has cut down on the number of visitors planning to attend. And Vancouver is the largest city to ever host a Winter Olympics. The last North American host was Salt Lake City, which has only one-third the population of Vancouver. Vancouver has the capacity to absorb visitors because we are a popular tourist destination during the summer months. Until very recently, the media reported that there was still capacity in hotels in Vancouver and Whistler—although this week they reported that the rooms are filling fast.

      Whatever the exact reasons, we have not heard of many evictions taking place that can be linked to the Winter Olympics.

      Of course, the real problem has nothing to do with the 2010 Winter Olympics. The real problem is a succession of federal governments which have failed to introduce a national housing policy, which have no stated deadlines for dealing with homelessness, which have not provided leadership nor adequate funding for non-market housing solutions such as housing cooperatives and social housing, and whose taxation polices have failed to provide incentives for investors to build market rental buildings.

      The real problem is government which promotes home ownership and ignores the needs of the many Canadians who can never compete in the private market. And because of the government’s resounding silence about how we will house Canadians who need assistance, including a very rapidly aging population, the question of the impact of the Olympics doesn’t compare to the larger problem.

      Martha J. Lewis is the executive director of TRAC Tenants Resource & Advisory Centre.




      Jan 22, 2010 at 6:06pm

      Does Martha rent in Vancouver? My rent has skyrocketed since the 2003 Olympic announcement. I can't wait for those higher taxes to trickle down into my rent as well. I went from $650/m rent in 2003 to $1100/m for the same apartment in 2010. The real problem is greed. People are suffering for it and business wonders why we don't spend money anymore? We are tapped out!

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      Jan 23, 2010 at 11:27am

      How much are the stats affected by the allowance of in-law suites?

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      Jan 23, 2010 at 5:01pm

      There's no way your rent could have gone from $650 to 1100 over 7 years if you continued to live in the same apartment. The maximum rent can be increased in 4% a year.

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      Jan 23, 2010 at 10:46pm

      I agree with D. There is noway your rent from 650 to 1100 in 6-7 years.

      And if it did, why would you stay? 650 in 2003 was a steal.

      Why do I think there is more(or less) to this account.

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      Where you been?

      Jan 23, 2010 at 10:53pm

      "rent can [only] be increased in 4% a year"

      And Gordon Campbell will never sell BCRail, BCHydro, he will protect healthcare and will not slash public services and the debt is 495 million...

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      Gastown Hustle

      Jan 24, 2010 at 11:52pm

      I've rented a loft in Gastown since 1998. I was paying $800 per month back then. Today I pay $1800 for the same place. I believe that's also more than 4%. I think most of the people commenting on "Rent" don't live in Vancouver where the landlords are slowly squeezing us dry. Why do I stay here? Because there are not a lot of spacious affordable downtown rentals out there. Go have a look.

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      East Side Advocate

      Jan 25, 2010 at 7:11pm

      Rent is higher. You cannot find a main floor of a house for less than $1200-1400 and that is the east side. Avg. basement suites in decent shape run $1000-$1100. Apartments start at $1000. This is well beyond the reach of the poor and working poor.

      Take a look at craigslist rental listings each day and see the Olympic greed run amok - there are no rentals for Vancouverites right now. I am fully employed and god forbid I had to move in the next month, I would not be able to afford it.

      As for those who deny the rent increases: more than 4% is true, it happens all the time. As the property values went up to pay for the Olympics, so did the rents, in order to cover the owner's increased taxes.

      Federal funding has dried up for co-ops, and co-ops are rarely geared to income anymore either.

      The Olympics has impacted housing, the middle class is absorbing it quietly, (unless they buy a house on the east side because they can't affod Kits, and then complain about the 'hood, but that's another story,) and the working poor and poor are just barely getting by - but also strangely quiet. There is a particular inertia and lack of will do anything about it which I find alarming and disheartening. Articles like this contribute to the lack of energy; if TRAC is saying everything seems okay, a whole lotta people are going to feel silenced and without an advocate.

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      Jan 28, 2010 at 11:10am

      It doesn't appear in this article that TRAC is saying everything is o.k. On the contrary, it states vacancy rates are below the national average and among the worst rates in the country.

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      Martha Lewis

      Jan 28, 2010 at 4:05pm

      In my article I am certainly not arguing that rent increases are okay. Big increases in rental rates have made housing unaffordable for a large number of people in BC - but how much of this is due to the Olympics and how much is due to general market forces and government policy (or lack of policy)?

      CMHC statistics about rent increases from October 2002 to October 2009 show that Vancouver has had a SLOWER rate of rent increases than most other areas of the province (where there are no winter Olympics taking place). Squamish, however, has been the hardest hit:

      Rent increases for 2-bedroom apartments 2002-2009:

      Squamish CMA 39%
      Kamloops CA 37%
      Penticton CA 33%
      Kelowna CMA 32%
      Courtenay/Comox CA 32%
      Victoria CMA 30%
      Nanaimo CA 30%
      Vancouver CMA 23%
      Abbotsford CMA 20%

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      Feb 18, 2010 at 3:37pm

      Martha, thanks for this enlightening article. Too bad it won't get much publicity because it isn't negative enough for the professional whiners here.

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