An aerial view of the town centre neighbourhood in White Rock, which is the only city in Metro Vancouver with a vacancy rate below one per cent. (Tracy Holmes file photo)

An aerial view of the town centre neighbourhood in White Rock, which is the only city in Metro Vancouver with a vacancy rate below one per cent. (Tracy Holmes file photo)

White Rock is the only city in the Lower Mainland with vacancy rate below 1%

Surrey’s vacancy rate increases to 1.4% notes CMHC report

The City of White Rock is the only municipality in the Lower Mainland with an apartment rental vacancy rate of less than one per cent.

The statistic is included in Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s annual report, published Jan. 28, highlighting the cost to rent, along with the number of purpose-built rental vacancies, across the country.

And while the City of Surrey’s rental vacancy rate jumped from 0.5 per cent in 2019 to 1.4 per cent in 2020, White Rock saw a decrease in availability. The vacancy rate in White Rock dropped from 1.7 per cent in 2019 to 0.8 per cent in 2020.

White Rock also had the lowest median rent in the Lower Mainland at $1,095. Surrey’s median rent was $1,209 and for downtown Vancouver, which had a vacancy rate of 6.5 per cent, it was $1,725.

The report notes that regional differences in vacancy rates are consistent with findings in other large Canadian centres such as Toronto and Montreal, where demand has shifted away from downtown cores to more outlying areas and neighbouring cities.

“I think that’s very accurate,” Mayor Darryl Walker said Thursday, adding that he’s not surprised White Rock has the lowest vacancy rate in the Lower Mainland.

“First of all, it’s a small community with limited options for housing… We just don’t have the availability of the land and, therefore, the buildings that other larger municipalities have.”

Another pressure on vacancy rates, Walker added, is that White Rock is a “go-to community” and “when people live here, they don’t want to leave.”

At Monday’s (Jan. 25) regular council meeting, council turned down an application for an 80-unit purpose-built rental building located at 1485 Fir St.

Walker voted in support of the project, while his fellow Democracy Direct councillors Couns. Erika Johanson, Anthony Manning, Christopher Trevelyan and Scott Krisjtanson voted against it.

Couns. Helen Fathers and Couns. David Chesney cast votes in support.

“The reason I supported it is because it becomes rental units that we really badly need,” Walker said. “It’s six storeys in height, which is higher than some people want, but it’s also a wooden structure. It can be created and built cheaper… so it can afford to be more reasonably priced as rental units.”

The 80-unit structure was to replace a three-storey rental building that was built in 1965. Walker said the building is approaching the end of its life. He noted that some of the other, older purpose-built rental buildings in White Rock are at the same stage.

RELATED: White Birch developer feels ‘betrayed’ by City of White Rock council

“But if somebody comes in and decides to do something new, then we have to be flexible enough to work with the developer, so that we can have more rental units,” Walker said.

The day after council defeated the project, the developer of the proposal contacted PAN and said he felt “betrayed” by some members of council because “they gave me so much encouragement and support for two years.”

Coun. Johanson, who voted against the six-storey project, took issue with PAN’s coverage of the issue, which included councillors’ comments made during the meeting.

“You’ve taken a very strong position in favour of the developer and made absolutely no attempt to contact anyone on council,” Johanson said in a voice mail to PAN.

Johanson was not able to fulfill a request for comment before press deadline, referring PAN instead to Coun. Manning, who is chairman of the city’s housing advisory committee.

Manning said affordability of units in the proposed 80-unit building and potential congestion in the neighbourhood were two reasons he voted against the proposal.

Had the project been proposed for an area along North Bluff Road, Manning said, he would have supported it “in a heartbeat.”

“It’s the wrong location at this time. I think once things settle down around the town core and we are able to adjust, respond to the increased traffic, then we can we look at a lot of those purpose-built buildings in that area,” Manning said.

In terms of increasing rental stock in the city, Manning indicated that the ideal situation would be to have BC Housing involved in future projects.

“Yes, especially in a town like White Rock that is land-poor, we need BC Housing. A lot of these municipalities, such as our neighbours to the north, they can offer land that the city already owns with a developer or with BC Housing or both in concert. We don’t really have that luxury,” Manning said.

As for the results of the CHMA report, Manning said he anticipates even more pressure on the rental market in White Rock going forward.

“Because with the newfound ability by many people to work from home during the pandemic, I really don’t see that we’re reversing much,” Manning said.

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