SRA regulations revised to protect low-income tenants

Vancouver City Council in July set a fee of $125,000 for a permit to remove a room from the listing of single-room accommodations in the Single Room Accommodation (SRA) Bylaw, an increase of more than 700 percent from the previous fee of $15,000.

“Conversion” was defined to mean any repair that forces a tenant to relocate. Owners under certain conditions were required to provide a tenant-relocation plan that addressed the permanent relocation needs of tenants, including moving costs and offering the option of moving back into the renovated unit at the original rent.

City Council also approved an allocation of $2-million for housing and authorized staff to work with non-profit organizations on an investment program that would support upgrading private single-room accommodations and assist non-profits that purchased or leased these buildings.

Potential Significance
The new fees and other bylaw revisions were an effort to stop investors snapping up relatively cheap hotels in the Downtown Eastside with low-income SRA units and converting them into hostels, student housing or boutique hotels.

The emergence of the investor/owners in the DTES market led to a significant increase in property-sales prices and land values. Rising land values made it more difficult for the City and non-profit housing providers to buy properties in the DTES.

Urban planner Noha Sedky said the amendments could discourage redevelopment or upgrading of deteriorated buildings. Such potential impacts could perpetuate a stock of housing that was substandard or obsolete. Carnegie Community Action Project representatives felt the proposed bylaw changes would not stop ‘renovictions’ (evictions due to renovations) and might even speed them up.

Background
A new type of owner had been buying SRAs – also known as single-room occupancy (SROs) accommodation – in strategic locations to maximize revenue from commercial/retail space and by raising rents.

The owners tried to upgrade rooms without triggering the need for an SRA conversion or demolition permit. The renovations enhanced the quality of the rooms but resulted in displacement of low-income tenants. The rent remained low enough to be affordable for students and service-industry workers but was unaffordable for tenants dependent on BC Provincial income assistance of $375 a month for rent.

Initially, City Council enacted the Single Room Accommodation Bylaw on October 21, 2003 to help manage the rate of change in the low-income housing stock, much of which was a last resort before homelessness. The City designated 198 buildings with 9,418 rooms in the downtown core and listed them in the bylaw. Despite the bylaw, the number of SRA units owned by the private market over the next 10 years dropped to 4,579 from 6,331. Most of this reduction in private market SRA units was largely due to the purchase and renovation by BC Housing of over 900 rooms in 13 SRA buildings, including, for example, the Marble Arch Hotel on Richards Street. Around 850 private sector units (13.4 percent) were lost.

The fee for removing a room from the SRA listing was set at $5,000/door in 2003 and raised to $15,000 in 2007. The City assumed that the fee would discourage owners from converting or demolishing designated rooms. The fee of $125,000/unit represented the approximate cost of replacing an SRA room. The fee was to be deposited into a reserve fund and used to cover the cost of replacing the designated room. The City in effect adopted a rate-of-change type process to achieve the replacement of stock that was being removed by the market from the SRA inventory.

City Council approved several measures related to SROs set out in the Local Area Plan for the Downtown Eastside, adopted in March 2014. In September 2014, Council amended the Standards of Maintenance By-law to expedite the process whereby the City undertakes repairs at the owner’s expense for buildings consistently in non-compliance with the Standards of Maintenance Bylaw.

Sources
City of Vancouver (2015, July 22) The Single-Room Accommodation By-law No. 8733. Web page and bylaw retrieved from:
http://vancouver.ca/people-programs/single-room-accommodation-bylaw.aspx

City of Vancouver (2014, March). Local Area Plan for the Downtown Eastside. Web page and bylaw retrieved from:
http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/dtes-local-area-plan.aspx

City of Vancouver (2015, June 29). “SRO Actions and Proposed Single Room Accommodation By-law Amendments” (staff report for Council meeting of July 7, 2015). Retrieved from: http://council.vancouver.ca/20150707/documents/rr2.pdf

City of Vancouver, Mukhtar Latif, Chief Housing Officer, and Abi Bond, Director of Housing Policy and Projects (2015, July 7). Staff memorandum and presentation retrieved from:  http://council.vancouver.ca/20150722/documents/ptec1-Memorandum.pdf and http://council.vancouver.ca/20150707/documents/rr2presentation.pdf

City of Vancouver (2015, July 7). Minutes of Regular Meeting of City Council. Retrieved from: http://council.vancouver.ca/20150707/documents/regu20150707min.pdf

Lee, Jeff Lee (2015, July 21) “Vancouver introduces harsh SRO rules to dissuade owners from ‘renovicting’”. Vancouver Sun.
http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Vancouver+introduces+harsh+rules+dissuade+owners+from+renovicting/11234522/story.html

Urbanizta (2015, July 22). “CCAP calls for help, alarmed that proposed SRO bylaw (July 22 in Council) could worsen Vancouver’s homelessness crisis”. CityHallWatch.
https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/ccap-concerned-sro-bylaw/