Critics slam $2,300-a-month rentals for old West End apartments

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Affordable units get facelifts and become housing for the rich, say critics of ‘renovictions’

By Belle Puri, CBC News

Posted: Oct 31, 2016

The newly-renovated apartment building Empire Towers in Vancouver's West End was built in 1968.

The newly-renovated apartment building Empire Towers in Vancouver’s West End was built in 1968. (CBC)

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Renovated one-bedroom apartments, 625 square feet, nearly 50 years old and listing for between $2,000 and $2,300 a month in Vancouver’s West End, have critics decrying “a crisis of unaffordability.”

“I hear from a lot of constituents, who when they look at the apartments that are available to rent now, they don’t know how they could ever possibly live here anymore,” said NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert.

“When it’s $2,000, $2,300 for a one-bedroom, you’ve got to be making a lot of money to be able to afford that.”

A costumed Chandra Herbert, handing out Halloween treats Monday to young children visiting his Denman Street constituency office, said the price tag on some of the neighbourhood’s new rental stock is anything but a treat.

Spencer Chandra Herbert

Costumed NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert distributes Halloween treats to visitors to his Vancouver West End constituency office. (CBC)

“Sometimes, you have two or three students living in a one-bedroom to try to afford it. Or you find people one paycheque away from homelessness because they have no savings,” said Chandra Herbert.

“They’re having a hard time paying the rent. They can’t afford food or to go out.”

Empire Towers

Online ads by Headwater Projects for units in Empire Towers at 1203 Broughton St. boast views of English Bay and the North Shore mountains.

Originally built in 1968, the concrete building has 40 suites on 10 floors.

Four units on the top floor are listed to rent for $2,300 a month, while units on the seventh, eighth and ninth floors are listed for $2,000, according to Headwater Projects’ senior property manager Rebecca Haar.

“One of the 10th floor suites is rented as of December 1. There’s a pending lease on another and two are still available,” said Haar.

Units on the first six floors of the building are listed for rent between $1,700 and $1,900 a month, she said.

Empire Towers was sold last year for $11.6 million.

Chandra Herbert doesn’t know the details about how the owners worked through renovations at this particular building but overall, in terms of housing, he said it’s wrong to take affordable housing and make it unaffordable.

“We’ve got to be building more middle-to-lower income affordable housing,” said Chandra Herbert.

“We also have to actually use the law, the Residential Tenancy Act, to make sure that people aren’t being evicted illegally; it’s not for a renoviction. And, if people do try that, that there is a fine. There is a penalty. You can’t break the law and get away with doing that with no fine.”

Out of line

“It’s out of line for the West End,” was one of dozens of social media comments about the cost of renting at Empire Towers.

“What bugs me is that they are charging new-build prices for cosmetic upgrades on what was, not so long ago, a rundown tower. Over $2,000 a month, and you’re still expected to share laundry?” wrote one online commenter.

A canvass of ads for West End rentals showed the average price-per-month for one-bedroom units with some upgrades is between $1,300 and $1,500.

Ads for suites in new developments include much-higher rental rates.

A Headwater Projects’ office staff member said 75 per cent of the newly-renovated units at Empire Towers have been rented.