VANCOUVER-While homes continue to celebrate Burnaby's election race ahead of Saturday's council, the developer of a 42-storey Metrotown block of flats has denied that busy tenants are leaving their homes before the proposed tower has even been approved.
Anthem Properties has confirmed to StarMetro that it has hired a company that specializes in & # 39; tenant relocation specialists & # 39; and that it offers help to 92 tenants who call a low-rise home – both advice and money – when they leave early.
"It is a very difficult situation," said Siwar Ben Anes, a resident of an apartment in Maywood Street, who has not yet found a new home in her family's budget. "To be honest, this is something new for me, I have never experienced this situation before.
"I'm not happy to relocate, I do not know if we can find another place We've already seen a lot of apartments, but we thought they were all too expensive for us – $ 1500 or even $ 1600 – compared to our old rent, $ 900 per month, that's why it's so stressful. "
The 25-year-old told her that she moved to the building more than two years ago, where her husband lives since around 2013 when she arrived from Tunisia.
Now, since receiving a letter from the new owners of the building earlier this year and attending a meeting in April explaining the plans to demolish the building, the couple are worried about finding a place for them and their almost two-year-old daughter who is close enough to English classes, children's programs and the local community center she relies on regularly.
"This situation will be difficult – we are living with the tenants," said Rob Blackwell, senior vice president of development at Anthem Properties, based in Vancouver. "It is a very tight rental market and moving, even under normal circumstances, is stressful and takes a lot of time and effort.
"The more time you let it happen, the easier that process is … By starting early in the process, we can free up time to move people and allow them to see what their options are, instead of doing it at the last minute and rushing. "
To this end Blackwell has said that Anthem has contracted the LPA Development and Marketing Consultants firm, which maintains contact with tenants, including the handling of what the company has offered: rent of several months in proportion to how long a tenant has been in the building, extra money for movers, and staff to fill in rental applications, BC Housing forms and other services.
Blackwell said that about 60 percent of Ben Anes' tenants have already accepted the offer and that it is "completely voluntary" and even available to those who refuse or refuse their assistance before an eviction notice has been officially delivered.
This is not how some tenants or local tenants argue, according to a report released on Monday by the ARCO interest group ACORN (the association of civil society organizations for reform now).
The pressure to leave willingly – instead of being deported later – is only a symptom of "Burnaby's homemade housing crisis," said the member organization.
The report reports that 769 rental units have been lost to developments in Burnaby since 2011, and another 893 units are currently working on what ACORN & # 39; demoviction & # 39; mentioned, or expel tenants by demolishing their properties and redeveloping them. Blackwell denied that Anthem had issued eviction messages to tenants there, but simply informed them early about the plans and timeline.
On Monday, a letter in the construction hall of 4241 Maywood St. reported to StarMetro: "Due to the fact that the council hearing had to be rescheduled, your current expulsion date is no longer 29 February 2019 … Depending on the outcome of the hearing, this may be the case. date you have officially received, canceled or canceled on your notice to terminate the rent. "
In an e-mail to StarMetro, ACORN organizer Murray Martin said that communication with tenants has created the "misleading appearance that tenants are legally expelled".
In fact, he noted that the building was not approved for redevelopment – or even passed its third reading in the town hall. And instead of moving the relocation process, ACORN argued that the process put pressure on the tenants to sign a deal, essentially forcing them to move early.
ACORN's report focused on the long-standing Burnaby Citizens Association Council, which is currently fighting an election campaign whose rivals have repeatedly criticized house evictions and developments at Metrotown.
"At a time when most municipalities are developing a policy that will build affordable housing, the BCA policy of mass demovision in Burnaby destroys the supply of affordable housing in the city," the report said, "… so much of it the affordable housing stock of the Metrotown area remains unoccupied during an unprecedented housing crisis. "
But BCA city councilor Colleen Jordan actually said that the city has listened to the concerns of tenants and lawyers about the redevelopment of the Metrotown area – and has implemented new rules that label zoning plans for new rental units, and ensure that expelled tenants have a chance get to go back to completed buildings. That is why the city postponed the next public hearing of Anthem.
"In the past they said that we had not informed them enough", she said in a telephone interview. "You just can not please some people.
"These developments will be subject to a (rental) replacement policy when they come back to us every time we get the zoning plans in place.Current tenants are notified that they have to leave … but they have the right to return to the new building. "
For Anthem, the project already has a second building with three floors planned to offer rental units managed by a non-profit society, and has sworn to encourage more affordable rental properties. The company also contested ACORN's claim that the existing units are "rent-checked" and that they are simply market units with permitted annual rent increases.
And bringing in & # 39; removal specialists & # 39; Blackwell has thwarted, the opposite of & # 39; forcing someone & # 39; to move.
"We thought that a third party that specialized in this would be a better course," he said. "One of the reasons we chose them is their track record of never leaving a tenant and approaching the difficult task of moving tenants in an ethical way – really working with everyone on a one-on-one basis . "
According to Ben Anes, the hope that she had that tenants could assemble to save their homes was faded when she discovered that many of her buildings were already empty.
"If we have the tenants together, we might have hoped to solve this problem," she said. "But when we discovered that so many apartments around us are empty, we now hope to find another place in an area like this: one that is safe, calm, with the programs and services that we need.
"We should start from the beginning."
-With files from Jen St. Denis
David P. Ball is a Vancouver-based reporter who covers democracy and politics. Follow him on Twitter: @davidpball