Rendering shows a planned redevelopment that would see 154 apartments replaced by 1,126 in Surrey’s Whalley area. (Photo: surrey.ca)

housing

1,000-plus unit Surrey project gets green light

City says final adoption to come once all current residents helped by proponent

A massive mixed-use development in Whalley is moving forward despite opposition from seniors, but others are saying the project is what’s needed for young people in the area.

The proposal to tear down a pair of aging Whalley apartments buildings and replace them with several towers, which concerned the residents currently living there, passed third reading Dec. 16. Only Councillor Steven Pettigrew opposed the proposal.

Final adoption is to come when all of the residents have been helped by the proponent.

There are currently 154 apartments between the two buildings at 10138 Whalley Boulevard and 10139 137A Street.

All told, the 154 apartments there now would be replaced by 1,126.

With the approval, developer Rize Alliance Properties plan to replace the current buildings with three highrise towers (23-storey, 32-storey and 39-storey), two 13-storey rental buildings, with 172 apartments, and another six-storey apartment.

Ground-level retail space and a daycare facility is also proposed.

Pettigrew said the proposal was a “good application” and the process is “quite well-thought-out except for the portion of the people that are currently living there.”

He said the developer is taking steps and looking at how to help the residents, but things are being done “too late in the game.”

“I don’t think it’s happened fast enough because I think if all these things were in place and all these things were happening, then we wouldn’t be having all these people coming to us with concerns and we wouldn’t be having the petition given to us.”

Pettigrew said he wouldn’t be supporting it because there’s too much opposition.

“It’s not enough. It’s not enough for the people living there and that is something I do not want to be responsible for any decisions that puts them at risk,” he said. “I’ve had too many seniors come to me over the last year with tears in their eyes and tell me that they’ve been forced out of their homes and they’re on the streets now and I don’t want to see that happen anymore.”

In planning documents, staff note concerns over displacement have been expressed to the city.

City planners said Surrey does have a tenant assistance policy and that the applicant, “in accordance with that policy,” has a person working with each tenant individually “and negotiating with them on a case-by-case basis based on their unique needs.”

Staff say in planning documents that the proposal “partially complies” with the city’s policy.

“Existing rental housing units are proposed to be replaced at a higher than 1:1 replacement ratio, however, the 172 proposed rental replacement units are proposed to be provided at market rental rates rather than at affordable rental rates for low to moderate income households (defined as 10 per cent below current Canadian Market and Housing Corporations average rents) in accordance with the policy,” the document indicates.

Despite that, staff supported the proposal proceeding to public hearing.

The justification for the recommendation is that the mixed-use aspect of the proposal will “complement” the city’s downtown core; that Rize has proposed a variety of in-kind amenities and cash-in-lieu to address the proposed density bump; that the site is within 500 metres of SkyTrain; among other rationale.

But staff do request that Rize “determine what density they would require in order to provide all or a percentage of the proposed market rental units at 10 per cent below CMHC rental rates.”

They note that the policy recommendation to provide new replacement units at that rate “represents an undue burden on this new development in the absence of significant government subsidy or density increase over what is currently proposed.”

Councillor Laurie Guerra said she “encourages” the developer to work “extremely hard to make sure these tenants are relocated adequately.” She also asked if Rize had had any conversations with BC Housing in regards to subsidizing some of the housing.

Lucas Berube, who works for Rize, said discussions with BC Housing are ongoing.

He added that there have been conversations around the HousingHub program, which is meant to create new, affordable rental housing and homeownership options for middle-income people.

In June, Rize told the Now-Leader that tenants were being offered three months rent, either as a lump sum payment, free rent, or a combination of both. A letter to residents stated that “longer term tenancies will be provided with additional compensation on a scale relating to the length of tenancy.”

Tenants are also being offered money to cover moving expenses.

“We will support them through this transition process and are committed to treating each tenant equitably, fairly and compassionately,” indicated a statement from Rize to the Now-Leader earlier this year, adding that there is a “resident support specialist” working one-on-one with tenants.

Rize said at the time that tenants could remain on the site through 2020 and possibly into 2021.

A phased occupancy is proposed for the project, with the first hoped to open in May 2023, the second in June 2024 and the final in August of that year. The school district projects 38 students from the development, 27 at Lena Shaw Elementary and 11 at Guildford Park Secondary.

Rize envisions an “open city block, with free-flowing public space at its heart, lined by a mix of uses which aim to serve its residents and the wider City of Surrey.”

Earlier in the evening several people got up to speak both for and against the development during the public hearing.

Beverly Palmer, who lives in one of the two buildings and spoke to the Now-Leader back in June, said during the meeting that everybody says it’s “great” and “absolutely fantastic” that Surrey is being rebuilt.

“Well the whole thing is us older people that have worked our lives and have spent money… we don’t have any place to live because you don’t put up any low-income (housing) for families,” Palmer said. “The whole thing is that people live from paycheque to paycheque… you don’t think about the older people that have lived in this town, in this city, supported this city and there’s no place to live anymore.”

READ ALSO: Seniors plead to Surrey council ahead of public hearing for 1,000-plus unit development, Dec. 7, 2019

READ ALSO: Seniors feel left in the cold as Surrey apartments eyed for redevelopment, June 7, 2019

Palmer said many of the residents live on a pension, with only “so much to live on.”

“We cannot afford $1,200 or $1,400 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and still have food. I don’t know where everybody is going to live. The older people, what are we going to do? We’re going to die? We’re going to, what, put us in the underground, so the younger people can live? Even the younger people are living together, with two, three, four people in an apartment because they can’t afford the apartments anymore.”

Brenda Vidovic, who also lives in the one of the buildings and was part of a petition to council, said most seniors are living on $1,700 a month.

“So my rent is now $1,100, what do I do? Is there any room in there for food? For any of us?” Vidovic asked council. “It seems to me that this is just being pushed through…We developed Surrey, we’ve been here for 30, 40, 45 years, worked here, paid taxes — we’re no more use. We’ve done our thing now it’s time for all the young people to take over.”

Vidovic said she was asking council for a little extra time to save “a little bit extra.” She also asked for the city to revise its tenant assistance policy.

“I don’t think that’s a big request one more year, pay more attention to the fact that three months or four months is not going to do it,” she said. “We’re in a totally different world now.”

Berube said the developer “acknowledges how challenging this situation is for current tenants and we understand that this ambitious project, under the City Centre Plan, will cause significant upheaval in their lives.”

“Exitsing tenants can stay in their homes for the next year at an absolute minimum and likely longer,” Berube said. “We also understand there are financial implications and in an attempt to address the financial impact of finding alternative housing, we’re offering every tenant a compensation package that exceeds the City of Surrey’s tenant relocation policy.”

However, there were also several people who got up to speak in favour of the project including university students.

Helen Sofia Pahou, an SFU student, said she supported the development for two reasons: its accessibility to public transit and because it would be a “milestone” in addressing housing shortage for students. “We must increase the supply of housing and expand upwards in a sustainable fashion,” Pahou said.

But, Pahou said, she hoped that those who are worried about where they will live and those who are in favour of the high-density development would be able to “bring their voices together and find a collective common ground.”

“Because I know what it’s like to not know where to go next in terms of homes — both my mother and I do.”

Meantime, Annie Kaps said she understood both sides of the argument.

“Fortunately, I’m not living on $1,700 a month and I’m not going to the food bank, but I bleed for these people who have worked so hard to have people, even like students come in here and usurp their right to affordable housing,” Kaps said.

“If they (the seniors) can’t afford it, tell me how these university students afford it? Where are they getting the money from?”

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