Heather Place is a housing complex in central Vancouver with 86 units of affordable family housing. The housing is run by the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (MVHC), who has announced that plans for the redevelopment of Heather Place are moving forward. If the City of Vancouver approves the rezoning of Heather Place this spring, the affordable housing will be demolished and replaced with mixed market housing.

According to the current redevelopment plan, a small portion (26 units) of the subsidized apartments will be retained while the remaining affordable rental (60 units) will be converted into housing at “competitive market rates,” starting at $1,800 for a two-bedroom apartment. Despite constant pressure and organizing from tenants, including an upcoming open house event on March 1st, rents for the majority of the current units at Heather Place are planned to increase significantly.

To address the concerns of tenants and to counteract the dramatic rent increase, MVHC has now offered both a right-of-first-return and access to minimal rent subsidies for existing tenants. There are four fundamental problems with the subsidy model proposed:

1) Income testing loophole

While the new subsidies are a welcome development, given MVHC’s initial position, the plan comes with a significant loophole. Tenants’ incomes will be evaluated to see if they qualify for a subsidy at the new Heather Place, but the test is based on gross income. This standard is flawed because it does not take into account tenants’ basic costs of living, including student loans. Moreover, the calculation does not take into account child care expenses, which amount to $1,000 per month or more for single mothers at Heather Place.