CBC Investigates

'It's absurd': City ponders removal of new houses for even newer homes

A group of East Vancouver residents are calling on the city to reject a rezoning application that would see two brand new houses removed to make way for an even larger multi-unit housing development.

Developer says he'll move two newly built houses if multi-unit rezoning application gets green light

Shine Edgar lives a few doors down the street from two new houses (seen behind) which would need to be removed if a proposed multi-family dwelling gets approved. (Nicholas Amaya/CBC)

The two freshly minted houses are among Vancouver's newest, complete with lane-way homes and basement suites.

But within months of renters moving in, the brand new buildings on the corner of Renfrew and Georgia are facing the possibility of removal — to make way for proposed multi-family dwellings that opponents fear will transform their neighbourhood beyond recognition.

"It's absurd," says Shine Edgar, a musician who lives a few doors down from the houses.

"There's no way they should be removed or demolished. They shouldn't have been finished in the first place if they intended for something like this to happen. But now that it's happened, the city needs to be accountable."

Land assembly bonanza

The city is considering an application to build 73 secured market rental residential units along a stretch of Renfrew a few blocks south of the Pacific National Exhibition under its so-called 'affordable housing choices interim rezoning policy.'

The plan calls for two four-storey buildings and 40 parking spaces, raising the ire of neighbours like Edgar who say their streets are already full of drivers trying to navigate their way around the popular Adanac bike lane.

These newly built homes would have to be removed if a rezoning application for a multifamily dwelling gets the green light. Some neighbours object. (Google Maps)

The proposal has already been revised to meet community concerns about an earlier iteration of the project featuring extra levels and commercial spaces on the ground floor.

The new plan will be the subject of a community open house next Monday, underscoring the issue of land assembly rippling throughout the city as developers look to cash in on the demand for more density.

Most homeowners across Vancouver have watched their property values soar in recent years. But those who own property on streets with busy traffic — such as Renfrew — haven't seen the same massive increases in their properties' value.

But by joining forces with their neighbours for so-called land assemblies, people living along busy arteries can demand above market price and help the city meet its housing objectives.

The trend was fuelled by the city's decision to lift a cap of 20 rezoning applications this June under a policy aimed at "encouraging innovation" and "enabling real examples of affordable housing types to be tested for potential wider application."

'I have never said that'

Developer Nav Bains bought the two new houses from another developer while they were in mid-construction in the summer of 2017. Prior to that, one old house sat on the double lot.

Bains says he made the purchase in the process of completing a land assembly involving the five other properties on the street. 

He says he has no intention of tearing the new houses down. If the rezoning happens, he says he'll move them instead.

"I have never said that. Nor have I applied for a demolition permit," Bains told the CBC. "I have people interested in purchasing these homes, picking them up and moving them elsewhere."

This old house sat on the double lot until it was sold in December 2015. It was replaced by the two new houses which are now facing the prospect of removal. (Google Maps)

The assessment reports on those homes reads like a short history of Vancouver real estate during the past three decades.

One house mid-block last sold in 1991 for $170,000. It's now assessed at nearly 10 times that amount. Another has been bought and sold five times since 2010 — including twice in the space of three months during the summer of 2013.

'It's certainly benefited us'

Bains paid between $2.2 million and $2.3 million for each property, in some cases nearly $1 million above their assessed value.

He says he decided to complete the half-finished homes after seeing people using needles nearby.

"I put two and two together and I thought, wait a minute, if I leave the homes bare skeleton, there could be some squatter that comes in the home," he says.

"So then my intention was that the community would be better served if in the interim while we were waiting for the permit we could rent the homes to people who need rental accommodation."

Alex Ploquin is one of four people splitting $3,100 for the main floors of one of the two new houses. She says she was told the deal was temporary when she moved in. (Jason Proctor/CBC)

Alex Ploquin is one of the four renters who split $3,100 a month for the two main floors of the house on the corner. She says they were told the deal was temporary when they moved in last May.

"We knew that we were only going to be here for two or three years tops, depending on how long proposals took, assuming it goes through," Ploquin says.

"On the one hand, it has certainly benefited us. But on the other hand, from an environmental point, it seems like a massive waste of resources."

'Lo and behold they're trying to do it'

Ploquin says she can see both sides of the debate.

As a 25-year-old living in Vancouver, she says it's tough to find a home. Prices increase with proximity to transit. She's just glad she doesn't have a pet.

"If there's actually going to be proper affordable units, that will definitely be a benefit," she says. "On the flip side, I can see why a lot of the neighbours would be concerned about parking."

Edgar says he thinks the city should encourage affordable housing.

But he thought that's why it approved the two new houses in the first place. He hates the thought of going through yet another round of construction.

"The neighbourhood breathed and thought 'Well, now that they're doing this, surely they can't turn around and build one of these developments,'" he says.

"But lo and behold they're trying to do it."

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.