Rising rents creating challenges for Vancouver nonprofit groups, small businesses, and cultural organizations

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      Residential dwellers are not the only ones hurting from rising rents in Vancouver.

      Small businesses, nonprofits, and the arts and culture sector are also reeling from increasing costs of leasing spaces.

      According to a City of Vancouver November 11 staff report, rent for retail spaces has increased 12 percent over the past four years.

      During the same period, though, rents for office and industrial spaces rose 21 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

      “Affordability challenges are impacting many aspects of Vancouver and job space affordability is a major concern for many organizations in the city,” Chris Robertson, assistant director for citywide and regional planning, wrote in the report.

      The report covered a broader topic: the city’s ongoing review of employment lands and the economy. The document noted that small businesses, nonprofits, and arts and culture organizations are “particularly vulnerable” to rising rents.

      As part of the review, the city conducted a business survey and received responses from 684 owners and operators representing 860 locations. About 95 percent of the respondents were small businesses or those employing 50 or fewer people. Almost 85 percent of the businesses occupy spaces that cover less than 5,000 square feet.

      Seventy-one percent of the respondents identified lack of affordable space as one of the top three challenges.

      Respondents indicated that they plan to expand or update 34 percent of all locations surveyed. Also, 10 percent of locations are expected to be either closed or downsized.

      Of those planning to close or downsize, 61 percent were doing so because of high costs for spaces.

      “Small independent businesses maintain a local culture of entrepreneurship and innovation that often provides support to other businesses and enhances economic capacity and competitiveness,” the report said, noting the importance of this entrepreneurial activity.

      The report also noted the lack of affordable spaces for Vancouver’s nonprofit organizations.

      “Their in-person services require proximity to the local community making affordable spaces further away untenable,” Robertson wrote.

      High rents are also taking their toll on arts and culture.

      “For example, over the past year, more than 16 studios in industrial spaces, with approximately 300 artists, have either closed or have been under threat of displacement or closure,” Robertson’s report stated.

      The report noted that the Eastside Culture Crawl Society has documented that 400,000 square feet of visual-art studio spaces in inner-city neighbourhoods have been “lost as a result of residential or commercial conversions and redevelopment over the past 10 years”.

      The review also did a separate survey among workers, and 27 percent of artists in this poll indicated that they were looking for new space because their studios were being sold, demolished, or redeveloped.

      According to the report, affordability issues mean Vancouver is losing not only businesses relocating to other cities but also “social and cultural assets and vibrancy”.