Heather Place update: on track to increase affordable housing units, keep existing tenants in place

Ever since the Metro Vancouver Housing Corp. decided, based on an outside consultant’s report, that the leaky Heather Place affordable housing project at Heather and 14th was beyond repair and should be replaced, tenants have been understandably concerned about their future at the site.

Last year, in response to strong representations from Councillor Raymond Louie and me, the MVHC board decided to plan for a phased replacement program that would allow for expansion of the affordable housing stock, maximize the number of families who could stay in place and minimize dislocation. (The board includes councillors from across the region and some favoured sale of the land and reinvestment of the proceeds elsewhere.)

Bottom line:

  • phased development would minimize dislocation.
  • rents would be protected for subsidy tenants; others could access subsidy if new market rents are beyond their means.
  • the number of affordable units would be increased.
  • other housing on the site could be co-op or rental to further extend affordability — this has yet to be determined, but discussions have begun with the co-op housing federation.

In addition, other housing on the site could be rental or co-op, to further extend affordability. (A final decision on housing mix has not yet been taken; condo developments  is not yet ruled out.)

A forum tomorrow at Douglas Park Community Centre promises to “unpack” Heather Place and reveal a nefarious plan for gentrification. For those interested in the facts, here’s a backgrounder from MVHC:

Key Facts – Heather Place Potential Re-development:


  • MVHC is a non-profit housing organization owned by the 22 municipalities in the region.  It provides 3400 units of affordable rental accommodation for low and moderate income families, seniors and those that require wheelchair accessible units.
  • The MVHC has 2 types of tenants – those on subsidized rent and those who pay market rent.  In general, low income tenants get a rent subsidy to ensure they pay no more than 30% of their income on rent (doesn’t apply to those on shelter allowance).  All other tenants pay market rent – a function of location, age, condition and amenities.
  • MVHC provides over $5 million each year in subsidies for low income tenants.  Overall, about 30% of MVHC tenants are subsidized (avg. $400 per tenant) and 70% pay market rent.
  • About 88% of the MVHC’s revenue comes from tenant rents.  There is no ‘tax’ support.

Heather Place Complex:  Re-development

  • MVHC owns and manages Heather Place.  Built in 1982, it contains 86 townhouses:  6-1 BR; 58-2 BR; 22-3 BR on 2 acres of land.   Three units, 1-BR and two 2-BR, are wheelchair accessible.
  • The complex needs building envelope repairs at a cost of $7-8 million (about $90,000 per unit).
  • The MVHC Board has asked staff to compare repair with re-development. The re-development option cost is being determined, and depends on the number of units, density, and other factors
  • Re-development would replace, at a minimum, the 86 townhouses with new rental townhouse and apartment units.  MVHC would build the maximum number of rental units it can afford to.
  • Existing tenants would get first right of refusal on new units.  Rents would be the same for those currently on subsidy; market rents would reflect the rental market.  However, in general, if any existing tenant’s new rent became more than 30% of their income, they would get a subsidy for the difference, if they qualify.    All other tenants would pay market rent. A question is whether market rents could be ‘capped’ and this will be an MVHC Board decision if the project proceeds.
  • MVHC is pursuing design options that will allow tenants to remain on site throughout a phased re-development, to the largest degree possible, to avoid dislocation.
  • Perhaps 200 or more additional units would be built, subject to density, as there is high demand for housing in this area.  These units could be rental, co-op or condominiums.  In any case, the MVHC will sell the density to the developer(s) in order to afford to build its own units.

Next Steps

  • Density for the site must be determined and this is estimated to take 12 – 18 months following a City of Vancouver rezoning process

The Vancouver Housing Market

  • There is a shortage of affordable rental and ownership accommodation in the Metro region.
  • 40,000 people come to the Metro Vancouver region needing housing each year;  about  1/3 will rent and 2/3 will buy housing.  That means up to 6000 families need rental housing.
  • The more supply that is built, the more prices will come down – both for rental and ownership.
  • The Regional Growth Strategy urges development near transit and services – the Heather Place site is ideal in this regard and has the added benefit of being near the VGH complex.