Meet the owner of 38 single-family properties in Vancouver

Landlord rents 26 of the houses, charges $825 to $3,500 per month

12th and Cambie

All this talk about so-called affordable housing had me wondering why landlords in this city charge so much for rent.

So I thought I’d approach one landlord who owns 38 single-family properties in Vancouver.

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Yes, I happen to know someone that rich.

Take a guess who it is.

Chip “Lululemon” Wilson?

The Aquilini family?

Courier columnist Allen Garr?

Alright, alright, enough of this nonsense, it’s the City of Vancouver.

So I’ll get right to it.

Of the 38 properties owned by city, 26 are used for rental housing, and they rent from $825 to $3,500 per month. I’ll expand on the rents in a few sentences. I wanted to first tell you about what the city is doing with its 12 other single-family properties.

Five in the Southwest Marine Drive area are vacant and bought to secure land for the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency’s plan to build two six-storey residential buildings on the properties. The project is expected to create 101 “secure market rental homes, with 52 per cent designed to accommodate families,” according to information I received from the city in an email.

Three properties are in the process of being deconstructed — the city doesn’t demolish homes anymore but takes them apart piece by piece to recycle what it can — and two are being renovated before being made available for rent.

Another property is vacant pending a review of “mould issues” and another house is being relocated to an alternate site. The city didn’t provide all the addresses — the affordable housing agency sites can be viewed on the city’s website — but confirmed a house at 3030 Victoria Dr., which generated a lot of recent media coverage after Kerry Gold at the Globe and Mail revealed it was vacant, is among the homes to be rented.

Gold’s piece set off a social media storm because it seemed kind of ironic that Mayor Gregor Robertson was going around telling everybody how the city was in a housing crisis and more had to be done to create supply, yet here was this city-owned house sitting vacant for 18 months.

The house, as I heard from park board general manager Malcolm Bromley, was supposed to be deconstructed to expand John Hendry Park at Trout Lake. Deconstruction, as Bromley told me, takes a long time and that contributed to the delay.

“I mean the optics of this,” he said, “I’m completely sympathetic. I’m supportive of housing initiatives, and this wasn’t according to our plan, this wasn’t according to our normal timing.”

So there’s some background for you.

Now let’s get to how much the city is charging to rent those 26 homes. As mentioned, I didn’t receive addresses for all houses, although I could do a land title search for City of Vancouver properties and spend a considerable amount of time narrowing down which ones are single-family and whether they are, in fact, the same 38 the city referred to in the email I received.

I’ll get to that on another day when time is on my side.

I can at least tell you that four homes in South Vancouver rent for $1,000 to $3,000 per month. Seven homes on the East Side go for $825 to $2,500 per month. And the 15 houses in Kitsilano, which I believe include one or two along the waterfront, rent for $1,160 to $3,500 a month. I wasn't told how many bedrooms were in the houses, the condition of the houses or how big or small they were -- all factors in determining the rent.

I had a telephone interview with Bill Aujla, the city’s general manager of real estate and facilities management, to learn why the city purchased the houses. Patrick Murphy, also of the city’s real estate department, was on speakerphone during the conversation.

“First of all, we don’t buy single-family houses, per se,” said Aujla, noting the objective is to buy property for city projects such as road widening, expanding parks and developing housing projects like the one in the works for Southwest Marine Drive.

Some of the purchases go back to the 1960s. Some properties, like those on Southwest Marine Drive, were bought in the last couple of years. Some of the houses on the properties are rented for several years, others provide temporary housing.

With real estate prices continuing to soar in Vancouver, Aujla acknowledged it’s a “challenging market” to buy properties and the city has to be strategic on how it goes about real estate deals. It also has to be quiet about its plans, noting talking publicly about buying up properties in a certain neighbourhood would only drive up prices.

“We’re in this for the long game,” he said, noting sometimes homeowners approach the city as a potential purchaser.  “We’re not looking to compete with speculative buyers. We’re looking to buy in the long term in a very pragmatic, feasible manner.”

A question I had that didn’t get answered before writing this sentence was whether all tenants were paying 30 per cent or less of their income on rent. That 30 per cent figure is the one the mayor and senior city planners have repeatedly said is the target for what a person should pay to rent a place in this town.

“When [the tenants] are renting at market rents, we’re not asking them for their income,” said Aujla, before Murphy explained it could be multiple tenants living in one house and, therefore, is more affordable for each tenant than paying the whole shot.

The city advertises its residential rental properties on its website. There are no units available, but you can see what commercial properties are available for rent, including a 334 sq. foot property at 180 Keefer St. for $1,559 per month and a 2,995 sq. foot building at 1004 West Broadway for $14,975 per month.

Final note: Years ago, when I was typing away at the Vancouver Sun, I wrote a front-pager about the RCMP raiding two houses in Richmond that operated as marijuana growing operations. The landlord? The City of Richmond. The raids came a few months after then-Richmond mayor Greg Halsey-Brandt hosted a forum for landlords and property managers to help them prevent their houses from turning into grow-ops.

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

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