Opinion: Rent-to-own housing solution catching on with developers

Concept is well-established in other countries, and is finally gaining traction in B.C., says Urban Development Institute boss

The good news is you’ve secured that dream high-paying tech job in Vancouver.  The bad news is that dream job is in a city with a rental vacancy rate of less than one per cent.  

Despite your best efforts at saving, it still isn’t enough for a down payment in what is considered one of the world’s most expensive housing markets.

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You did, however, manage to secure a basement suite to rent in Port Moody for the time being, in a commutable city with its own close to zero vacancy rate. Then, you see a local media story about this new Port Moody-based "rent-to-own condo" opportunity, steps from nearby major Evergreen rapid transit lines, 25 minutes to Waterfront station downtown, and just a short walk to your new job.

Rent-to-own isn’t a new idea outside of Metro Vancouver, in places like Britain or the U.S., but it is a novel concept here.

The Port Moody rent-to-own opportunity was certainly welcome news to Metro Vancouver renters when UDI member, Panatch Group, offered this innovative solution in January 2019 for its 50 Electronic Avenue project. The owner, Kush Panatch, recently shared the details behind this successful partnership with the City of Port Moody and Vancity Credit Union, at a UDI education seminar in front of an audience of nearly 300 multi-family home builders.  He played a Global News story for the UDI crowd, recalling media coverage created a huge spike in applications for this unique “pathway to home ownership.”

Multiple media stories led to their staff fielding more than 500 applicants for the 30 rent-to-own units in the 358-unit project that features a shared amenity space with a yoga studio, gym, children’s play area, dog wash, and a co-working space, among other popular and contemporary communal needs.

Successful applicants would pay a fixed rent for two years, with all of that money converted into equity for their down payment.

Construction is expected to be completed in 2021. At that point, rent-to-own buyers will pay rents of $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom unit or $1,250 for a two-bedroom. Purchase prices for the 643-square-feet, one-bedroom suites started at $469,900 while two-bedroom units started at $649,900.

The conditions to qualify were simple:

• Applicants must currently live or work in Port Moody;

• They must live in the home; they can’t assign their purchase agreement to another person; and

• They must-be first-time homebuyers.

With so many applicants, they chose a random lottery-style selection process last March, which left some elated and others disappointed, but hopeful they’ll get another chance.

One of the would-be homebuyers, 24-year-old Christian Fracchia, lauded the project to Global News: “It’s a great opportunity for home ownership. Now I don’t have to pay rent and save at the same time. Otherwise, I would have to wait five or 10 years to save that money.”

A Rotary Club of Richmond award winner for his community-minded service, Panatch said he hopes this inspires other homebuilders to offer similar solutions. He believes this can help more people find affordable homes in the communities where they work.

That’s already happening. The Times Colonist reported earlier this year that Ledcor recently offered renters a chance to apply 25 per cent of their monthly rent to the purchase of a new home at the Belmont Residences Project in Langford, on Vancouver Island.

Homebuilder Anthem Properties recently announced its new rent-to-own program, with similar conditions to Panatch, in the District of North Vancouver. This project features 25 rent-to-own apartments, as well as 33 below-market rentals, along with condominiums and townhomes, in the 341-unit total.

These achievements are part of what makes me proud of our industry, one that drives innovation and builds caring and sharing communities.

Anne McMullin is president and CEO of the Urban Development Institute, a non-profit and non-partisan industry association of residential, commercial and industrial builders

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