West End seniors advocate heartened by City of Vancouver protection for low-income renters

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      A place that got the spotlight at a Vancouver council discussion about tenants facing displacement was the West End.

      The downtown neighbourhood draws a lot of young people because of its distinctive urban lifestyle, and it also has one of the biggest concentrations of seniors in the city.

      Susan Moore, manager of support and information services with the West End Seniors Network, told council that there are 5,500 adults aged 65 and over in the community.

      Moore also said in her presentation that 60 percent of these adults live alone, a rate double that of the city’s average.

      She added that a fifth or around 1,100 likely have a monthly income of $1,500, and that a majority of these are renters.

      According to her, a number of low-income seniors are long-term renters, paying about $900 a month, which is relatively affordable.

      Moore mentioned all these because she was concerned that about one of the measures proposed by city staff to protect tenants facing eviction because of redevelopment and renovations.

      Staff had suggested that a landlord must provide at least three options for alternative accommodation in the city, of which one should be in the neighbourhood where the tenant lives. What worried Moore and other speakers was the proposal that rents in these places should be no more than the average rents in the area that are reported annually by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

      According to Moore, using CMHC average rents could mean that a number of seniors renting with $900 may have to pay $1,200 to stay in the West End.

      Acting on a motion by councillor Tim Stevenson at the December 10 meeting, council approved a measure providing that a landlord should provide an alternative housing option that is within 10 percent of the current rent being paid by a tenant facing eviction.

      In an interview, Moore said that Stevenson’s amendment is a “positive change”.

      “That 10 percent increase will be a struggle for low-income seniors, but significantly better than trying to pay for CMHC average rents,” Moore told the Straight by phone.

      According to Moore, a one-bedroom unit in some of the older, four-storey walk-ups in the West End currently rent for at least $1,100 a month. In newer buildings, some rents start at $1,700.

      Moore said that council’s decision to use the 10 percent benchmark should be seen as a “great opportunity for developers to … contribute to our community” by “ensuring that those who are most vulnerable are cared for”.