Vancouver has become infamous for its demolitions of perfectly good houses by owners or builders looking to replace them with mansions, townhouses or condo apartments.
Now, residents of an east-side neighbourhood are decrying the planned demolition of two just-built residences with laneway houses, along with five other homes, to get the kind of affordable rental housing planners and politicians have said is needed.
“This city has a zero-waste policy," said Shine Edgar, who owns a house near the proposed project on Renfrew Street, a major arterial road on Vancouver’s east side. "How can you send brand-new, livable homes to the landfill like this? It makes a mockery of the policy.”
As the city of Vancouver grapples with how to address a crisis in affordable housing, builders and developers are eyeing projects that will best match the city’s priorities and be more likely to qualify for city incentives. That means an abrupt change on some streets that are in traditionally single-family neighbourhoods but are also main arterial roads.
The city does not require developers to recycle the materials in a new house that is in the way of development plans rather than simply demolishing it.
“We have no policy that says you may not tear down a house based on its age,” said Karen Hoese, assistant director of the city’s rezoning centre. “Even a character house, we can’t say you can’t demolish it. We only have incentives.”
Ms. Hoese acknowledged that it “feels kind of counterintuitive to tear down some really new buildings.”
Developer Navjot Bains bought the new houses with the other five on the east side of the 700-block of Renfrew in a partnership with his brother. They were not finished, so Mr. Bains said he completed them and has rented them out until the building permit for the planned 73-unit, mixed-use development is approved, a process that is likely to be long.
After that, he said he is hoping to sell the two houses to people who are willing to have them moved.
“We’re not planning to take them down. Why would I spend money on the homes and then tear them down?” Mr. Bains said.
Mr. Bains said he could have just boarded them up or even demolished them, but he decided it would be better for the community to finish them as cheaply as possible and rent out the houses and the laneways.
“I thought they would pose a problem for the community. They could get squatters.”
The project, which will be presented at a public open house on Dec. 10, has been scaled down from its first version, unveiled last April, in which it was seven storeys high on the lane and six on the street, with 77 units of rental housing and some commercial spaces on the bottom.
After feedback from the community, it was reduced to five storeys on the lane, four on the street, and 73 units with no commercial.
Ms. Hoese said about 50 people came to the April open house expressing concerns. Since then, the rezoning centre has received about 180 e-mails from people, mostly supporting the project.
The development is being proposed under the city’s affordable housing options program, which allows buildings up to six storeys on defined arterial streets that have good bus transport.
Mr. Edgar said the neighbourhood has not objected to projects at the major intersections on Renfrew, such as at First Avenue and at Hastings Street, but this development is a bad fit with the current residential community.