Tenants in an East Vancouver apartment building are fighting the landlord’s attempts to impose a 45-per-cent rent increase.
Many of the tenants are living on seniors’ and disability pensions and say that big a rent hike would be a financial disaster for them.
"I've been going to the food bank up here, which is where I'm going now, and that helps," said tenant Adeline Saunders.
Saunders, 57, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, said her disability pension doesn't cover her bills now, and if her rent goes up, she'll be forced to choose between heat and food.
"Even though they say they put the double windows in here, it’s still freezing in here," said Saunders.
Three dozen seniors live in the 42-year-old building on East 6th Avenue, called Lions Manor, which is undergoing renovations and safety upgrades.
The building is owned by the Mount Pleasant Housing Society, a non-profit organization set up by the Mount Pleasant Lions Club.
Tenant Andy Lai, 72, said he is stressed after receiving notice of the planned hike.
"It’s unbelievable that the rent increase is so much more than the allowable legal limit," said Lai.
In 2012, B.C. landlords are allowed to raise rents by 4.3 percent.
'Below market value'
But the Mount Pleasant Housing Society has applied to the Residential Tenancy Branch for permission to exceed that limit by more than ten times, arguing that rents at Lions Manor are too far below market value.
Tenant Jacques Cote pays $355 per month for his bachelor suite and that would go up by $145 per month to $500 if the owner is granted the full increase.
"If I am going up $145 a month, it will be a big difference and I don’t know if I can live here anymore," said Cote.
The society says market value for a bachelor suite in that neighbourhood is $740.
B.C. NDP housing critic Shane Simpson says the province is failing to maintain affordable housing.
"Forty-five per cent for people who live on modest incomes, all at once, is too much," said Simpson.
Simpson pointed to the $180 million in federal and provincial funding announced in July to maintain old and build new social housing.
"The question is, where is that money? Where is the provincial government in this discussion," said Simpson. "And why aren’t they at the table with this society providing them the supports to make this work with a rent increase, but a more reasonable one."
Turned down grant
In response to questions about the new funding, a spokeswoman for the ministry responsible for housing told CBC News in an email Friday that "the $180 million is to support provincial housing programs," and noted that Lions Manor is privately owned by a non-profit society.
The spokeswoman also said the Mount Pleasant Housing Society was offered $500,000 in 2009 "through the Housing Renovation Partnership for building envelope repairs and energy upgrades."
But the society turned down the offer in March 2010, the spokeswoman said.
The Mount Pleasant Housing Society declined requests for an interview.
A Residential Tenancy Branch hearing is scheduled for Feb 10.