City News: BC ACORN eyes Surrey as next city for major rental-bylaw reform

Posted August 10, 2020

A group that saw success in prodding New Westminster and Burnaby to reform their rental bylaws, is now setting its sights on Surrey.
 
Just like other cities in the Lower Mainland, Surrey is struggling with a housing crisis, but it also has its unique challenges as well, says a new report put out by BC ACORN.
 
“Well, I think when it comes to Surrey the big problem is the lack of investment that the municipality has made compared to other municipalities. We have seen other cities go forward with social housing that Surrey hasn’t,” says BC Acorn’s Bryn Smith. “There are a lot of vacant lots that could be used.”
 
The report highlights the city’s various other housing issues.
 
Smith points out it’s another Metro Vancouver city where it tough to find a place to rent.
 
“In Surrey in particular, the vacancy rate is actually below one per cent which is below the average for the rest of the Lower Mainland and that’s part of why rents are so high because supply is so tightly constricted.”
 
Among other things, BC ACORN is pushing for rent stabilization, which provides rent ‘top-ups’ to tenants who are forced to move because of renovations and demolitions. The top-up is meant to cover the difference between the rent they were paying in the original suite, and the rent they will be paying while they are awaiting the renovations and the rent in the new suite.
 
“If you’re going to destroy the building, you have to present a plan to the city saying here’s where we are going to house all of the people while we build a new place,” says Smith, who points out the city of Burnaby has adopted the approach.
 
Another housing problem that stands out in Surrey is the fact it’s a draw for newcomers to Canada. Smith says that leaves these types of tenants vulnerable because they may not be familiar with tenants’ rights.
 
He asserts some landlords in Surrey operate substandard suites then take advantage of newcomers.
 
“Landlords will target them for complaining and speaking up. Then when they are eventually driven out of their homes, landlords will significantly increase the rents. This happens a lot in the Guildford neighbourhood where we have a lot of recent immigrants.”
 
To that end, another provision being promoted by ACORN is landlord licensing, whereby landlords are encouraged to do repairs on buildings before they get to a point where demolition is the only, or perhaps preferred, option.
 
“Landlord licensing turns landlording into a business. One thing that New Westminster is doing is requiring landlords to maintain a standard of maintenance and they are given incentives through tax credits and refunds to do so.”
 
The report also draws on findings from the 2018 Surrey Housing Profile, which said 18 per cent of Surrey renter households live in overcrowded conditions.
 
ACORN says instead of acting on the findings of the report, the city is making the housing situation worse.

 

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Article by Renee Bernard for News 1130

 

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