Aaron Jasper of the West End Residents Association, a member of Renters at Risk Camapign, was quoted in the Vancouver Courier regarding the threatened evictions at the Rougemont on Robson.
Proposed ESL school translates into evictions
Downtown heritage building tenants getting the boot
Cheryl Rossi, Vancouver Courier
Published: Friday, September 14, 2007
Another building of tenants face eviction due to building renovations, this time by an ESL school that wants to renovate an Edwardian apartment block to house a school and students on Robson Street.
For the second September in a row, Dayna Sykes is facing eviction from Rougemont Apartments at 1689 Robson St., near Capers. She must be out by Nov. 1.
She says she can’t afford to buy, and when she looked for a new place last September, she couldn’t find anything comparable to the $1,100 she and her roommate pay for their spacious, centrally located two bedroom suite. “It’s a larger issue. It’s not just about our building. It’s about what’s going on in the city,” she said.
The Canadian College of ESL, which owns the building, served its tenants eviction notices last year because it wanted to renovate the building and establish a school within it.
Sykes protested because the owner did not have the proper permits, and the eviction was rescinded. “The area is zoned mixed commercial and residential and is currently violating that by being only residential,” said Jim Clark, president and owner of CCEL, in an email to the Courier. “After the necessary work it will be two floors of commercial with a language school possibly as a tenant and two floors of residential–particularly suitable for students but not exclusively.”
He said CCEL has received permits to do needed renovations, including seismic upgrading, adding an elevator and new entry to provide wheelchair access and also adding a stairwell to improve fire safety, plumbing and heating. The city’s Heritage Commission has recognized that Rougemont Apartments holds heritage value.
Chris Warren, the city’s co-director of development services, said the school’s permits are under review. A building permit cannot proceed until a development permit is approved. The public will be notified about the proposed work and a public meeting will be held if the level of interest in the project is high.
Even though Sykes has lived without heat and hot water at times over the past year because of renovations, she wants to stay. CCEL offered her $1,000 in June to vacate her apartment before it had the necessary permits in place, but with the city’s vacancy rate of only 0.3 per cent–in 2006, according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation–coupled with high rents, she chose not to move. Clark said all but five of the tenants in the 15-unit building received money and left.
Sykes doesn’t believe her suite needs to be vacant for more than a day at a time for renovations and because the landlord doesn’t have the proper permits, she plans to dispute the eviction through the province’s Residential Tenancy Office.
The ESL school’s website advertises the building to its students. It cites the average price for a shared studio with an equipped kitchen, cable TV and high speed wireless Internet as $1,600 a month, a single room with a shared kitchen at $1,000 a month and a shared room with a shared kitchen at $1,000 a month.
Aaron Jasper, a director with the West End Residents Association, sees evictions for renovations and subsequent increased rents as a worrisome pattern across the Lower Mainland. He believes the Residential Tenancy Act provides a loophole allowing landlords to claim they need to evict tenants for renovations.
According to Jasper, it gives them the ability to jack rents to get around rental controls limiting rent increases to a maximum of four per cent a year. Jasper understands landlords, particularly “mom and pop” operations, need a financial return on their investments, which is why he believes landlords and tenants should work together to lobby the provincial and federal governments to devise comprehensive strategies to ensure affordable housing exists.
He said businesses are having a hard time finding people who will work for minimum wage because service workers can no longer afford to live in the city, and he sees the West End losing its rich diversity because of gentrification.
“The provincial and federal governments need to get back into social housing programs, so get back into building co-ops, get back into building housing for modest and low income families,” Jasper said, adding they also need to provide financial incentives to developers to purpose build rental housing.