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Victoria seeks to nurture its aging rental housing buildings

Victoria is looking for answers on how best to preserve and protect the city’s aging stock of rental apartment buildings, considered the backbone of the city’s stock of affordable housing.
Victoria city hall generic photo
Victoria is looking for answers on how best to preserve and protect the city’s aging stock of rental apartment buildings, considered the backbone of the city’s stock of affordable housing.

 

Victoria is looking for answers on how best to preserve and protect the city’s aging stock of rental apartment buildings, considered the backbone of the city’s stock of affordable housing.

The city has issued a request for proposals seeking a consultant to advise on how to revitalize existing multi-unit housing buildings, improve energy performance through retrofits and explore whether such upgrades can lead to improved resilience during earthquakes.

The request for proposals notes that 60 per cent of the city’s residents are renters and there are an estimated 10,000 aging market-rental units in the city, accounting for 25 per cent of the housing stock.

“It’s sort of the backbone of the city’s affordability,” said Jonathan Tinney, city director of planning.

But many buildings are deteriorating as a result of age or lack of maintenance and are vulnerable to becoming teardowns due to redevelopment.

A 2016 study done for Landlord B.C. estimated 20,000 capital region apartment units — more than half the total building stock — are due for major renovations or replacement by 2025.

The city has limited ability to regulate demolitions and is looking at ways to encourage preservation and help provide housing stability to renters during major renovations, Tinney said.

“We know that if you’ve got a building that needs a significant amount of work — to replumb it, redo the envelope — then you’re going to have to move those people out.

“What we’re finding is most landlords are doing it the right way. They’re trying to transition people out, but in some cases, for lots of different reasons, that’s happening more quickly than the folks in there would like, and also more quickly than the market can absorb,” Tinney said.

The request for proposals notes that in instances where buildings are significantly upgraded, “the city currently has no tools to ensure tenant stability through preventing or mitigating the effects of eviction or substantial rent increases.”

The request says the report must answer several key questions, including:

• How many older market apartment buildings exist in the city that might require regeneration and whose tenants are at potential risk of eviction should they be sold or redeveloped?

• What regulations, policies and incentives could the city provide that would encourage landlords to maintain the aging stock of existing lower-end-of-market rental housing?

• What authority does the city have to establish policies or guidelines augmenting the Residential Tenancy Act (such as a tenant relocation policy) to improve rental tenant stability and/or protections and what would such a municipal policy look like?

• How can the city’s property-maintenance bylaw be updated to improve protections for renters in aging market-rental apartment buildings?

• How can landlords be encouraged to complete upgrades that promote energy efficiency?

• Is it feasible to incorporate seismic upgrades into these regulations, policies and incentives while still preserving affordability? If so, how?

About $135,000 is being made available for the study. The affordability component — estimated at $75,000 — is to be funded through the city, while the energy-efficiency component is $60,000, to be funded through B.C. Hydro’s sustainable communities program.

Victoria councillors last month pushed ahead with an attempt to impose a six-month moratorium on demolition of rental apartments, even after being told it’s probably beyond the city’s authority.

Councillors unanimously approved a resolution not to accept applications to demolish existing residential rental buildings containing more than four units when the rental vacancy rate is below four per cent “to the greatest extent possible within the city’s legal authority.”

Tinney said demolitions aren’t the prime driver behind the study.

“That isn’t something we’re seeing a lot of. What we are seeing is the need for investment in these properties,” he said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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