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.