Low-cost senior housing at risk in Vancouver

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      Since the 1970s, Nicholson Tower has provided low-cost housing for seniors in Vancouver’s West End.

      With B.C. Housing selling the place, there’s worry that about half of its homes will be rented out at market rates.

      Nicholson Tower, a 20-storey building located at 1115 Nelson Street, is one of the first two properties that will be sold by the provincial government to nonprofits as part of its new housing strategy.

      Expressions of interest for the high-rise as well as for Stamps Place, a townhouse and apartment complex in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, were due on November 3.

      Other public-housing properties will also be on the auction block. By March 31, 2015, B.C. Housing expects to have transferred ownership of about 115 of its approximately 350 properties to nonprofits. The rest will be disposed of over the next three years.

      NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert (Vancouver–West End) had just come from an October 31 meeting with seniors in his community when he responded to a Georgia Straight interview request.

      “These are the first two, and if this goes ahead,” Chandra Herbert told the Straight by phone, “and they see no push back and the community does not raise the alarm, then we could have a real problem as we lose more and more affordable housing.

      “And the question that I have is,” he continued, “why the heck would the government ever do this if, as they say, they want to build affordable housing, and building affordable housing is way more expensive than maintaining the existing low-income housing that you have? And I should say ‘low-income housing’ because, as you know, ‘affordable’ means something different to many people.”

      The MLA said he has written deputy premier Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for housing, to inquire about Nicholson Tower. He also asked Coleman about future plans to sell B.C.-government-owned housing sites in his constituency such as Sunset Towers and the West End Manor.

      According to Chandra Herbert, he has yet to hear from Coleman.

      In his October 21, 2014, letter to Coleman, Chandra Herbert noted that the documents related to the sale suggest that the new owner of Nicholson Tower will be allowed to rent out 49 percent of the building at market rates.

      “How can your government allow this when the need for housing is so large?” Chandra Herbert asked the minister.

      The New Democrat also noted that although the government has said that no resident will lose their home, other low-income people currently on the B.C. Housing waiting list “will no longer have the opportunity to live there, and be forced to leave our community”.

      B.C. Housing spokesperson Laura Gallant said that Coleman was unavailable for an interview “because he has an event” and that B.C. Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay was out of town and “also unavailable to chat”.

      The provincial government wants about $34 million for Nicholson Tower, which was built in 1969 and has 219 suites plus five units used as a common area and staff residences.

      Based on the profile of residents drawn by the government, 54 percent of dwellers are on income assistance and 40 percent are on pension. About half the residents are between 55 and 74 years old.

      According to a draft operating agreement between the government and any potential new owner, the buyer “may accept applicants at any income level with the approval of B.C. Housing” if there are no low-income applicants for a future vacant unit. Based on that draft agreement, any new owner must ensure that “at least 51% of all Residential Units are offered at below market rates”.

      In the interview, Chandra Herbert said that he doesn’t have an issue with nonprofits getting ownership of public-housing sites.

      “My problem is if it’s set up in such a way that it requires the nonprofit—in order to maintain the building, in order to continue operating it—for them to change what was 100 percent low-income housing into 50 percent low-income housing with a loss of many units,” Chandra Herbert said.

      He suggested that the province is “selling out”.

      “They’re basically walking away from their responsibility,” Chandra Herbert said, “because they don’t want to maintain the buildings.”




      Nov 5, 2014 at 11:10am

      "Chandra Herbert said that he doesn’t have an issue with nonprofits getting ownership of public-housing sites"

      Of course not, NDPers in the Housing Industry are salivating over the prospects of running the same buildings now only half full of poor people.

      Cronies from both parties are going to be filling their boots...the only problem is that the NDP ones have to put up with some old geezer mumbling 'Tommy' once in a while.

      So to recap: No matter how law-abiding you are, you will still get more and more cops. No matter who you vote for, the politician that didn't win will still get rich simply playing a role.


      Nov 7, 2014 at 11:01am

      It's unlikely that any non-profit housing society will bid for the Nicholson Tower. The cost is $35 million (actually it's $25 million for the property and you'll need $10 million to repair it) while the annual income from rent is under $1 million. How is it going to be possible to pay a $35 million dollar mortgage with such a low income. That's regardless of other operating costs. The solution to this is in the small print - the rents were formally 30% of the tenants' income (averaging at under $400) but in future will merely be "below market rent" which could mean as much as $1200 according to the latest CMHC market rent figures for the neighbourhood. It's clear that this is the start of a process which will, within a year or two, entirely displace almost all the residents of Nicholson Tower. This would contradict the mandate of most existing non-profit housing societies.

      Also, the call for proposals says there are $10 million of renovations required with no contingency fund apparently created over the 45 years that BC Housing has been managing it. That the building has fallen into such disrepair would alone be a scandal and illustrates the woeful property management at BCH. Of course there are no details of what these repairs actually are, and with BC Housings famous low-balling of everything, the actual figure will be much higher.

      As the proposal to sell to a non-profit society was apparently set up to fail, expect this to be handed over to private for-profit interests before springtime.


      Aug 12, 2015 at 4:05pm

      I live here and no one are safe no management not my job description what is