British Columbia

Vancouver seniors facing 'demoviction' oppose new affordable housing building

The Alice Saunders House is being torn down to make way for a bigger building with more affordable units. But the current tenants, most of them seniors, say they don't want to be displaced and potentially dispersed throughout the city.

Non-profit housing society Brightside Homes says tenants can return at the same rate when building completed

The Alice Saunders building is being torn down to make way for a bigger building with more affordable housing units. (CBC)

Tenants of an affordable housing building on Vancouver's East Side held a block party on Saturday to voice their opposition toward their home being torn down to make way for a bigger building with more units. 

The Alice Saunders House is a three-storey walk-up in the Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood that's managed by the non-profit Brightside Community Homes Foundation. It houses about 65 residents, most of them low-income seniors between 55 and 80 years old.

Last month the residents found out the building is being torn down to make way for a larger development with more than 100 suites.

The foundation, which got public funding for the redevelopment, says 30 per cent of the units will have deep subsidies to accommodate people on limited incomes, 50 per cent will have rental rates based on income, and 20 per cent will be "affordable market rentals."

Resident Dutch Robinson says he has no intention of leaving the building. (CBC)

Dutch Robinson, one of the block party organizers, said some of the residents are older seniors who have been in the building for up to 30 years and don't want to be displaced.

"We're just going to fight it," Robinson said. 

'Not a simple process'

Carolina Ibarra, Brightside's director of strategic initiatives, said the foundation has hired a coordinator to work with the current residents to find homes at comparable rates in one of its 26 other buildings, or with another non-profit housing agency.

"We're meeting with each resident individually to assess their needs so that we can design a personalized relocation plan," Ibarra said.

Most of the residents at the Alice Saunders building are seniors. (CBC)

The foundation will also offer all current tenants a unit at their same rate when the building is completed, which Ibarra said will take two to three years. Or, she said, they can choose to stay where they are relocated.  

"We know that it causes a lot of anxiety. This is not a simple process but it's one that unfortunately needs to take place in order to create more housing in the city of Vancouver," she said. 

'I want to stay here'

Despite those reassurances, many of the older, long-term residents expressed their concern about the process and displeasure about leaving their friends and their tight-knit community.

"This is our home. I don't want to move out. I want to stay here," said resident Ester Santos.

"They can drag me out."

Santos pays $975 for her one-bedroom suite. She thinks the current building is in good enough shape, and she figures it will take at least five years before the new building is up and she can return to her home and her friends. 

Skepticism, misinformation

Residents also expressed concern that Brightside would be able to find affordable homes for all 65 residents, given the tight housing market and the long wait lists for affordable housing.

But Ibarra said the building, a walk-up with no elevator, doesn't suit the needs of the older tenants. She also said Brightside is doing its best to combat some of the misinformation being spread among the tenants.  

"I understand the skepticism," she said.

"This is a big issue in the city of Vancouver and there are a lot of situations where residents are not in fact supported and they don't come back at the same rates." 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

With files from Beth Mariam

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