Want to get our stories Straight to your inbox (see what we did there)? Sign up for our newsletter here.
Robyn Vermette moved into Creekview the day the co-op opened its doors in 1985.
“I was quite young at the time. I was a solo parent, and even at that time, I was looking for affordable housing,” Vermette, who is on the co-op’s board of directors, told the Straight. That was almost 40 years ago, during the co-op boom of the 80s when federal policies helped more than 160 co-ops spring up in BC alone.
But now, Creekview’s lease is fast approaching its expiry—and more than 350 residents, including some original members who have spent most of their lives in the building, are unsure what will happen to the 107-unit co-op in False Creek South.
If the building closed down, Vermette said, “I don’t know where I’d go. I can’t imagine where I would go that I could afford.”
Co-ops are an important part of Vancouver’s affordable housing ecosystem, with more than 3,700 units leased on city land around the city. More than 50 co-ops stand on land leased from the city at below-market rates.
Co-ops collect monthly payments from residents, which are pooled to cover upkeep and maintenance costs. As co-ops are banned from making profits, they are substantially cheaper to live in than similar units on the rental market and one of the few places that offer affordable family-sized homes. Creekview has had a daycare since it opened, and generations of families have grown up there.
In 2021, the city released guidance that co-ops nearing the end of their leases should be offered 40-year renewals with the option for 20-year extensions.
False Creek South isn’t included in this framework. Creekview’s lease is due to expire at the end of 2023, and the whole neighbourhood is watching closely.
Darcey Johnson, current president of the Creekview Housing Co-operative, said that the building is “a canary in the coal mine.”
Individual co-ops are responsible for negotiating with city staff on lease renewals, which are then signed off by council. The last time Creekview met with city staff, they offered just a 12-year lease extension on the existing below-market terms.
Johnson said the co-op needs to take out a loan to repair the elevator and parts of the exterior. But with only a 12-year lease extension, creditors are reluctant to lend out money, so they haven’t managed to secure a loan.
“For our building specifically, we’re basically no longer functioning with a 12-year lease,” he said.
Nancy Hannum, co-chair of the co-op subcommittee at RePlan, the False Creek South neighbourhood planning committee, told the Straight that the committee was “shocked” at the 12-year offer.
“That doesn’t seem to be a thing in any of the city’s own documents,” she said.
In a statement, the city told the Straight that Creekview had been offered a 12-year lease continuing below market rates, or a 20-year lease at market rates.
Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, said that the 12- or 20-year lease options are likely because the city is trying to bundle up parcels of land for redevelopment.
“When it does come time to redevelop and regenerate the neighbourhood, [the city] are not hamstrung by all these different lease expiry dates,” he said. “You can sure see the logic in that. But the problem is it creates dramatic insecurity for the members of a co-op like Creekview.”
He also said it was likely that some kind of agreement would be reached, as it would be a bad look to kick out 350 people from their affordable housing.
“Nobody wants to be in the news as evicting a bunch of low-to-moderate income households in a city where they won’t be able to find any other place to live,” Armstrong said.
Advocates are optimistic that the new city council will be open to negotiations. The ABC majority promised to double the number of co-ops within four years as part of its election platform, and a recent bill to make social housing construction easier passed with unanimous approval. For a council saying it’s serious about affordable housing, part of that is making sure existing units continue to provide affordable housing.
“I think the first order of business, if one wanted to double the number of [co-op] units, would be to be able to retain the units we currently have,” Johnson said.
Creekview’s lease negotiations continue.