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Vancouver’s mayor says he’d like to see a new renter-protection policy that would allow tens of thousands of renters who live in older, low-rise apartments along the new Broadway subway line the right to the same or lower rents if they decide to move out temporarily and move back into the new building.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who is running for re-election in this fall’s municipal election, said Tuesday that he is pushing for the strongest renter protections the city has ever had. There are concerns new developments that will be allowed along a wide swath of central Broadway will lead to displacement.

“Broadway is home to one in four Vancouver renters, and my promise to you is that the Broadway plan will not push you out or raise your rents,” said the mayor in an official statement.

He claimed that a senior currently paying $1,000 a month in rent would be guaranteed to pay no more than that if her building were redeveloped. That senior would get anything over $1,000 covered by the developer in any temporary accommodation while the new building was going up, and would pay that same $1,000 for her apartment in the new building.

A family currently paying $2,800 might end up paying even less, he said.

Mr. Stewart’s announcement comes in the wake of increasing debate over the Broadway Plan, which would set new rules for the height and density of many of the 500 blocks in the big central portion of Broadway that is the city’s second downtown. The plan, something that the province required from the city as a condition of building the Broadway subway line, is due to be voted on before the civic election on Oct. 15.

Many renters have become alarmed as they have seen proposed new zoning rules that would allow up to 20-storey buildings in areas that are now dominated by older low-rise apartments dating from the 1920s onward.

Two city planners leading the Broadway Plan say that the strategy for how to protect renters to the maximum is one of the thorniest parts of developing the 30-year strategy that aims to provide ways for 40,000 to 50,000 more people to move into the area that is now home to about 80,000. (That increase approximately matches the growth rate the area has seen in the past 20 years.)

Matt Shillito, who is heading the Broadway Plan project, and Dan Garrison, assistant director of housing policy, say the city’s goal is to ensure that redevelopment is not attractive to landlords whose buildings are still in reasonable shape and still bringing in healthy revenues.

Instead, the idea is to provide permission for enough new density on a site that it only makes sense to redevelop an old building when it is at the end of its life and maintenance costs are starting to soar.

That will allow new apartment buildings to be introduced slowly into the area and allow more people to live there, they say.

Most of Broadway’s immediate new development will come from rezoning for higher densities where there are no apartments – mainly on Broadway itself.

“We’re trying to provide a pathway for redevelopment when it’s naturally right, rather than incentivizing it,” said Mr. Garrison.

But that means getting the math just right, especially when it comes to factoring in the cost of compensating renters versus the profit to be made from a taller building with more apartments.

Too much incentive, in the form of extra density, and teardowns will start to accelerate. Too little, and landlords will let their buildings deteriorate, while new needed housing won’t be developed.

Staff, using an outside consultant, have calculated that zoning of up to 20 stories will provide what’s needed to cover Vancouver’s new and heavier cost of compensation.

The issue of redeveloping rental-apartment areas is a longstanding one in the region.

People worry there could be mass evictions as developers move in, the way they did in Burnaby in the 2010s, as that council allowed for demolition of many low-rise apartments that were replaced by expensive condo towers.

Burnaby voters’ discomfort with that trend led to Derek Corrigan being ousted as mayor in 2018 and a new mayor, Mike Hurley, bringing in strong renter protections there.

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