Councillors push forward on moratorium for rental demolitions

Dozens of people rallied outside Victoria City Hall before Thursday night’s council meeting in support of a six-month moratorium on rental apartment demolitions, which has won preliminary approval.

“Sixty-six per cent of Victorians are renters,” Ashley Mollison told the event, organized by Victoria’s Together Against Poverty Society, and they’re facing the “psychological, mental and physical health effects of displacement.”

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The council meeting also drew speakers concerned about short-term vacation rentals, which they said are cutting into long-term housing for renters.

Kimberley Hughes, general manager of the Delta Victoria Ocean Point Resort, said that a recently hired manager at the hotel was unable to find an apartment in Victoria and now commutes from Langford. Yet when tourist season is over, there will be “600 to 800 empty short-term rentals,” she estimated.

TAPS executive director Kelly Newhook said the agency sees people every day struggling to find rental accommodation, including those with decent incomes.

“There’s nothing out there,” she said. When renters end up having to pay 60 or 70 per cent of their earnings on rent, they’re not able to support other parts of the economy, she said.

Newhook said TAPS would like to see an independent third party determine whether apartment buildings truly are in bad shape before the city allows them to be demolished.

Victoria councillors pushed forward Thursday 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.”

During the six months, staff would be directed to complete work on a number of rental housing initiatives including:

• Completion of a rental housing retention review.

• Adoption of a standards of a rental housing maintenance bylaw.

• Adoption of a policy to ensure no net loss of affordable units, with at least an equivalent number of units at the same rental price in replacement developments.

• Progress toward a rental housing incentive program.

• Investigation of increased municipal protections for tenants facing displacement due to renovations and demolitions, including priority for housing at comparable rents in refurbished and new units, and increased compensation from landlords for displacement.

The motion was approved at a committee of the whole meeting Thursday afternoon and later ratified by council.

The approval came even as director of sustainable planning Jonathan Tinney said the city doesn’t have the authority to not process demolition permit applications or rezoning applications that include demolition.

Worried that developers are starting to turn their attention to redevelopment of 1960s and 1970s apartments that form the bulk of the city’s more affordable rental housing stock, councillors Pam Madoff, Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday had proposed pushing the pause button on demolition.

Madoff said the city is facing “the perfect storm” of redevelopment bearing down on vulnerable tenants in older apartment buildings. “I’ve been hearing from so many people, from so many buildings, who have been made aware by their landlord or manager or the owner of offers that have been made to purchase their buildings,” she said.

Mayor Lisa Helps said she supported a six-month halt.

“I think six months is a reasonable amount of time. It’s not going to constrain anybody too much, and it puts some fire under us to get this work done so that people who want to redevelop properties can do so and so that people who want to have affordable housing can have that,” Helps said.

Isitt said he wants further examination by staff of whether the city has the authority to not process demolition permits.

“If we have no authority, then this becomes a moot motion,” he said. “I personally don’t think that’s likely.”

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