B.C.’s Rental Protection Fund saves affordable housing in Vernon

When Sean Rhodenizer found out the affordable housing complex he lives in in Vernon, B.C., was going up for sale, he became very concerned.

b.c.’s rental protection fund saves affordable housing in vernon

“It was very nerve-wracking. It was a little scary to be frank,” Rhodenizer said. “Some of us weren’t sure if we were going to be evicted or not.”

But the 26 affordable units have been saved thanks to what’s called B.C.’s Rental Protection Fund, a program started in January 2023.

The $500-million Rental Protection Fund provides one-time capital grants to non-profit housing organizations so they can buy affordable housing buildings that go up for sale.

“Nothing is scarier than when you are living in affordable housing to see a for-sale sign on the front lawn,” said B.C.’s housing minister, Ravi Kahlon.

In the case of the purchase of the Sunrise Gardens, $3.1 million came from the fund while the remaining $40,000 came from Canadian Mental Health Association (CKHA) in Vernon, which will now own and operate the building and keep rents as they are.

“Now it will simply be supported by our housing team and by your staff,” said Julia Payson, executive director for CMHA Vernon.  “We’ve already gone in and introduced ourselves, started talking to the tenants that live here.”

b.c.’s rental protection fund saves affordable housing in vernon
2:29 New housing supply act expected to tackle housing crisis

For Payson, playing a key role in not displacing tenants hits home as she and her family struggled with rental insecurity in her younger days.

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“Ten years of rental insecurity going back between homes, ” Payson told Global News.

“Sometimes six months was all we would be in a home before we would have to move because it was up for sale or because you know something with the landlord wasn’t working out…I remember my parents going through the stress of trying to keep us feeling OK with the moves, feeling OK when we were packing up.”

According to the Rental Protection Fund program, B.C. has lost nearly 100,000  units renting below $1,000 per month between 2016 and 2021

It added that for every new affordable rental home that is built in B.C., four more are lost to investors, conversions, demolition and rent increases, preventing B.C. from keeping pace with the demand for affordable housing supply serving both current and future residents.

That has prompted the provincial government to call on its federal counterparts to help support the program.

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“The federal government has a lot more dollars than the provincial government,” Kahlon said. “Half a billion-dollar investment is getting us a long way there but with the federal government, we can do so much more in communities.”

For residents of the Sunrise Gardens, there’s even more good news. Not only will they keep their affordable homes but a renewal grant of  $47,000 is being earmarked for each home for upgrades.

“We actually built out a 20-year plan for the building as part of our application to say this is how we’ll make these improvements,” Payson said.

“There’s some exterior work that’s going to need to get done. There’s interior work. There’s like the really un-exciting parts of the building that have to do with the heating, ventilation. So it’s a real broad spectrum of work over the next 20 years.”

Meanwhile, tenants like Sean Rhodenizer are breathing a big sigh of relief.

“I’m quite happy, it sounds like they are going to make quite a bit of improvements and changes,” he stated.

b.c.’s rental protection fund saves affordable housing in vernon
2:07 Provincial housing targets proving challenging

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