Highrises of Metrotown. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

Burnaby city staff complete two-year tenant assistance policy review

Two years after city council gave the final approval for the tenant assistance policy, staff have returned with six recommended amendments.

By Dustin Godfrey | September 7, 2022 |5:00 am

Just over two years after Burnaby city council gave final approval to the tenant assistance policy (TAP), staff are returning to the local decision-makers with some recommendations for changes.

Ed Kozak, general manager of planning and development, is set to report today to the planning and development committee, with a year-two review of the policy, including six recommendations for improvements.

Currently, under the TAP, any renter in a building of five units or more who is displaced by a development—for example, residents of a low-rise apartment building—is eligible for a handful of benefits.

The primary benefit is the right of first refusal for the replacement unit being built in the place of the tenants’ current residence at the same rent plus inflationary increases.

And while the old building has been demolished, and construction of the new building is still underway, the developer must assist with interim housing, whether it’s a top-up of rent for accommodations found by the tenant or for accommodations found by the developer.

The third option is for a lump sum, which is available to people who have found new accommodations that don’t require rent, such as buying a property.

Finally, tenants are eligible for assistance with moving from their old apartment to the temporary space, and from the temporary apartment to the new building.

How it has played out

Through the TAP, the city has secured the replacement of about 2,300 purpose-built rental units that, through 33 rezoning applications, would otherwise have been demolished and converted either to market rentals or to condos.

And the policy is being implemented on another 25 rezoning applications, the city said.

According to Kozak’s report, the city has attended 24 tenant meetings, in which rezoning applicants inform existing tenants of the development plan and the TAP.

Of the 883 households that have indicated their preferred compensation for interim housing, 45% have opted for the developer to find them a temporary space, while 27% have found their own spaces. Another 28% have requested the lump sum, about three-quarters of whom have been approved, while a quarter of those requests are still pending.

As part of the review of the policy, the city held focus groups with developers and tenant relocation coordinators to gauge what has gone well and what hasn’t.

And the city also sent out an online survey to tenants who have gone through the process.

However the city noted that none of the projects under the tenant assistance policy has reached occupancy, so consultations can only reflect the parts of the process that have been reached.

With that in mind, the planning and development department suggested six ways in which the policy can be improved.

The recommendations

The first recommendation is around applicability—particularly expanding the policy to smaller properties. Currently, it only applies to privately owned multi-family rental buildings with five or more units.

City staff recommend expanding that to include purpose-built and secondary market rentals in buildings with fewer than five units.

The city is also looking at including language around compensation for caretaker units.

Specifically, staff suggested that caretakers—who pay reduced rent as part of their employment—displaced by developments be included in the TAP, with rent at the replacement unit based on the average rent tenants with similar unit types were paying in the building.

The tenant relocation coordination position could see some restrictions, too, with staff recommending a clause barring property caretaker, managers, or superintendents from being appointed to the position to avoid conflicts of interest.

Tenants had argued to the city that developers should be required to hire a third party for the position, but staff don’t want to go that far.

“The limited number of third-party consultants who do this type of work means a potential for delayed service for tenants, as well as delayed processing of rezoning applications due to rezoning applicants being unable to secure a consultant for this position,” staff wrote in a report.

How compensation is paid out

Staff also looked at financial compensation relating to heat and hot water, as well as the lump sum option.

The former deals with how the compensation for tenants who had heat and hot water included in their rents should be calculated.

The latter suggests the lump sum option be opened up to any tenant under the TAP, effective for rezoning applications submitted next year or later.

“There were comments on the prescriptiveness of the lump sum option and the inability of tenants to decide what suits their household needs best,” the staff report notes.

“Some tenants have also shared their preference to ‘opt out’ of moving assistance and other compensation that requires ongoing communication with the rezoning applicant and/or the city.”

Finally, the city suggested minor amendments as part of a plain language review to make the policy more accessible to the average person.

Rental-use zoning policy also under review

City staff said any changes to the TAP would not impact developments currently going through rezoning applications. Instead, any amendments would take effect on Jan. 1 next year and would only apply to new applications.

The city’s rental-use zoning policy works in tandem with the TAP, and it deals with provisions requiring the inclusion of “affordable” rental units in new developments, as well as incentives for more below-market rentals.

Staff expect a review of that to be completed in the coming months, and suggested that there may be changes that impact the TAP. In that case, staff said they would return to council to reconcile any differences between the two policies.

Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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