Rent Hikes Threaten Mole Hill Residents

By Jackie Wong
The West Ender

It’s not easy these days to raise a family in Vancouver on a modest income, but living in affordable rental housing should help to make the financial burden a little lighter. That’s why Arwen Brenneman and her husband, John, applied to live in the West End’s Mole Hill housing complex when they decided to have children. But a rent increase recently issued to them and other tenants who pay low market rates in the complex is forcing them to rethink their plans.

“If this goes through, we’ll probably [have to move] out to New Westminster,” says Brenneman, whose family has lived in Mole Hill for six years. “We made choices based on initiatives that were… to try to support middle-income people [who chose to live] downtown for all sorts of very good reasons,” she says, adding that she wants her children to grow up within the diversity of the West End. “But I feel like we’re a social experiment that’s been abandoned.”

Mole Hill, a collection of West End heritage homes behind St. Paul’s Hospital (between Pendrell and Comox Streets), was saved from demolition as the result of extensive community activism throughout the 1980s and ’90s that eventually led to the revitalization of the houses, as reflected by their current incarnation.

Mole Hill housing units range in size from bachelor to three-bedroom suites, 60 per cent of which are subsidized (rents are determined by calculating 30 per cent of residents’ incomes), and 40 per cent of which are market housing at the low end of market rates, usually 10 to 15 per cent less than what the market charges.

Brenneman’s family now pays $1,068 per month for its two-bedroom, 850-square foot apartment, with no amenities such as laundry rooms in the building. Rent increases will see that rate rise to just below $1,400 in two years. Brenneman, a part-time web consultant, is the primary caregiver for her two young sons, while her husband works as a network technician (he was laid off twice in the past year as a result of the economic downturn). Like many young parents, Brenneman is saddled with lingering student-loan debt and prohibitive childcare fees. “Last year, I made about $25,000, but I spent about $10,000 on childcare,” she says. “And I’m working to go back to school… I’m not sure whether that will happen or not, but it does mean we are in sort of temporary poverty.”

Brenneman says one-bedroom apartments will be hardest hit, with 48-per-cent rent increases over the next two years, which tenants first heard about in December 2008. Affected tenants have filed for a joint arbitration (scheduled for July 17) at the Residential Tenancy Office to dispute the rent increases. In the meantime, Brenneman has seen her neighbours start making plans to move out of the community, which has long been known for its long-term tenants. “My next-door neighbour, he’s got three kids; he’s already given notice,” she says. “The stress is too much.”

Margot Beauchamp, executive director of the Mole Hill Housing Society, has dealt with the difficult task of liaising between BC Housing, the volunteer board of the Mole Hill Housing Society, and tenants. “We were between a rock and a hard place,” she says of the rent increases. “[BC Housing] suggested that they would not solve this problem for us, and we had to go to the Residential Tenancy Act and exercise the part of the Act that says a landlord can, in fact, exceed the allowable amount [of a rent increase] if they can prove that there are similar rents in the community that are charging more, and/or if they can prove that they’re in a financial deficit situation — which are both true, in our case.”

Beauchamp says the rent increases are a necessary course of action to resolve a deficit in Mole Hill’s operating agreement with BC Housing. “We’re not doing this in order to increase our profit,” Beauchamp says. “We’re doing this in order to have a balanced budget and continue to operate as a housing society, and that’s mandatory. It’s part of our operating agreement with BC Housing.”

Terry Lavender, a longtime West End renter who chairs the Mole Hill Housing Society, doesn’t predict a positive outcome from the rent increases at Mole Hill. “We certainly hope it doesn’t become a gentrification of Mole Hill,” he says. “None of the board members would want that… That’s not why we’re here. But we may be forced into that if we’re forced to raise rents.”

A spokesperson from BC Housing requested not to be quoted in WE.

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One Response to “Rent Hikes Threaten Mole Hill Residents”

  1. Monika Says:

    What ever happened with this?

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