Mayor Kennedy Stewart has hailed Vancouver’s renter protection measures as the “most generous and comprehensive package of protections in Canada.” But residents in one of the city’s most successful neighbourhoods say they’re having trouble with their landlord: the City of Vancouver.False Creek South, built on formerly industrial lands in the 1970s, has been hailed internationally as a model of urban livability, and about 80 per cent of the land is owned by the city. But there’s a growing sense of unease among residents about their leases, the earliest of which are to expire in 2022 and 2023, with others coming due in the next two decades.Residents on city-owned land, who live in a mix of co-ops, market rental and strata condos, have tried for several years to get renewals, but it’s a complicated matter, with each building presenting its own challenges. False Creek residents say negotiations with the city have stalled, and they’re questioning what they see as discrepancies between what Stewart said during last year’s election campaign and what he’s done in his first six months in office.“We’ve been seven years in this thing. … And we had gone into this with a pretty high trust factor, I think. And that’s totally eroded,” said Sharon Yandle, past president of the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association. Yandle pointed to public comments recently made by city manager Sadhu Johnston as “one of the most recent examples of why that trust has eroded.”Last week, Johnston told CBC Radio that “the city had offered (one co-op) a 40-year lease extension. They declined that lease extension offer, largely because they didn’t like some of the conditions we were proposing.”The extension offer in question, Yandle said, would have meant displacing several of the co-op’s lower-income tenants and risked bankrupting the co-op.The lease for that co-op expires in less than three years, and tenants are getting desperate, Yandle said. “But they looked at that (offer) and said: ‘We can’t accept this.’ It’s a total non-starter.”Yandle said her association has made three requests to meet with Stewart since he was sworn in as mayor. But while residents have met with Stewart’s co-chiefs of staff, Anita Zaenker and Neil Monckton, the mayor has declined to meet with them.The residents say the mayor’s refusal to hear from them directly marks a change in what he said during last year’s election campaign.
False Creek South in Vancouver.
Arlen Redekop /
In the lead-up to last year’s election, the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association held conversations with several mayoral and council candidates, then compiled the responses.Asked how he would work with city departments to help resolve the issues facing False Creek South, the report said, Stewart reflected on his experience as a member of Parliament.“For him, the best way to cut through ‘bureaucratic mess’ is to get directly involved, a method he would continue to use as mayor,” the report said, before quoting Stewart directly: “I have been a hands-on MP and would be a hands-on mayor. I’m not afraid to pick up the phone or go down to see somebody as long as I’m abiding by the public service code and I’m not threatening.”On Monday, Stewart said he doesn’t believe his approach in office has been at odds with his campaign statements. The reason he hasn’t met with the residents directly, Stewart said, is because he’s been advised not to insert himself while the city, as the land owner, and the leaseholders are negotiating.“What I’ve learned here, from a legal perspective, is that the city as a legal entity really has to deal directly with the leaseholders, as legal entities,” Stewart said. “It would be unwise for me to get in the middle of those negotiations. … At this point, I would rather just see how the negotiations go.”Residents like Yandle reject that explanation, saying no real negotiations are happening.Stewart said he’s working hard pursuing other avenues to resolve the situation.
A photo from the early 1970s shows the first phase of False Creek South’s redevelopment.
Submitted photo: False Creek South Neighbourhood Association, courtesy of Ray Spaxman /
The planning and development of False Creek in the 1970s was made possible through a partnership of three levels of government. The federal government significantly decreased its spending for housing, starting in the 1990s. The current federal government has made public statements about getting “back in the game” on housing since unveiling a $40 billion housing plan in 2017, but Stewart openly criticized the feds, saying despite the fanfare, very little federal investment in housing has arrived. He’s hoping to change that.“What I’ve been trying to do is get the federal government back involved in this, to help us solve this,” Stewart said. “I am hopeful that something will be coming from Ottawa.”Stewart said he is “deeply sympathetic” for the stressed out residents with soon-to-expire leases, but he’s still “very optimistic” the situation can be resolved soon.Nathan Edelson remains hopeful, but perhaps a bit less optimistic. He worked in Vancouver’s planning department for 25 years until his retirement in 2008, and was hired by the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association as a planning consultant to help them work with the city on lease renewals.“There’s a lot of frustration on the part of residents,” Edelson said. “They’ve spent a lot of time on this. … And they’ve also spent their own money, to hire various staff and lawyers and other consultants to try to be prepared for the leases and get that done, so that they can move on toward making changes that would make this great neighbourhood even better.”The various False Creek co-ops and strata councils are in good financial shape, Edelson said, but “the only challenge they’re facing is that with the leases coming towards an end, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and increasing challenges in borrowing funds for needed major repairs.”“There’s been lots of city staff time that has gone into this, but to what success?” Edelson said. “Telling us that we can’t meet with (Stewart) was really surprising, and a disappointment.”Still, Edelson said, he believes Stewart “has the potential to be a great mayor, and I’ve worked with lots of mayors.”“And when I say a ‘great mayor,’ he’s facing one of the toughest challenges the city’s ever faced,” Edelson said. “But False Creek can be the bellwether of how to make it successful. Or it can continue to languish.”firstname.lastname@example.org/fumano