News / Vancouver

A neighbourhood divided: homeowners vs. renters in Clayton Heights

Complaints, not just about parking, lead to mass eviction of vulnerable renters.

Heidi Thomas and her six-year-old son, Brandon, on October 3, 2017. The family is one of hundreds of renters who may have to move because of a crackdown on basement suites in Surrey's Clayton Heights neighbourhood.

Jennifer Gauthier / For Metro

Heidi Thomas and her six-year-old son, Brandon, on October 3, 2017. The family is one of hundreds of renters who may have to move because of a crackdown on basement suites in Surrey's Clayton Heights neighbourhood.

Christine Dubecki is trying to find a new landlord who will rent to a single mother of three who is on disability assistance and can only afford $1,050 a month.

With a rental vacancy rate at just 0.4 per cent in Surrey, it’s a nearly impossible task.

“I’ve already considered going to a woman’s shelter, because I cannot afford the market – I can’t,” Dubecki said. “It’s not possible. I’m already struggling every day.”

Heidi Thomas, another renter who also moved into Clayton Heights as a single mother, is still in disbelief.

“It doesn’t feel real because I can’t believe the city would actually evict people,” she said.

Like many Surrey neighbourhoods, Clayton Heights is poorly serviced by transit and has overcrowded schools.

Surrey's population has rapidly grown over the past decade. Mauro Hrelio, a homeowner in Clayton Heights, questions the pace of development and whether the city has added too many people, too soon. 

Hrelio wants renters like Dubecki and Thomas gone from Clayton Heights. He complains that the renters in his neighbourhood are loud. They flick cigarette butts on the ground. And, he says, their children are overcrowding local schools.

He also complains that it’s hard for his elderly parents to find a place to park near his house when they visit. In order to save the spot in front of his house, he parks one of his three vehicles on the street instead of in his driveway.

Hrelio has little sympathy for Thomas and Dubecki.

“You shouldn’t be in an illegal basement suite,” he said. Of renters in general, he later adds: “You’re just a renter — (homeowners) are taxpayers.”

The City of Surrey has received thousands of complaints about parking congestion and illegal basement suites in Clayton Heights over the past few years.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

The City of Surrey has received thousands of complaints about parking congestion and illegal basement suites in Clayton Heights over the past few years.

After receiving thousands of complaints from residents like Hrelio, the City of Surrey is finally cracking down on hundreds of unauthorized basement suites in the Clayton Heights neighbourhood.

The relatively new neighbourhood was designed to include basement suites and coach houses. Surrey bylaws prohibit a homeowner from renting out more than one suite, but over the years, the multiple suites have proliferated.

Now, says Mayor Linda Hepner, the city has been left with no other choice but to order 175 homeowners to decommission illegal basement suites by Jan. 31. But the city has now relented on that deadline and will give extensions on a case-by-case basis to residents with extenuating circumstances, such as having a child in school in the neighbourhood.

Heidi Thomas has rented a three-bedroom suite in Clayton Heights for three years. She's

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Heidi Thomas has rented a three-bedroom suite in Clayton Heights for three years. She's "in disbelief" that the city's solution to complaints about parking will force her to leave.

“The (rental vacancy rate) is at an all-time low,” Hepner said. “We need to be cognisant of that and we have to manage that community’s concerns, where there are homeowners who say we expected to live in a single family neighbourhood, and those who are turning it into a multi-family neighbourhood.”

Hepner said the community has rejected several solutions suggested by the city, including a residential parking permit system and “queuing:” allowing more streets to have parking on both sides of streets, which means only one car at a time can travel down the centre of the street.

Dubecki’s landlord has already told her he will evict her with two months notice. As she searched Craiglist for rental listings, she came across the house where she rents a basement suite, already listed as an entire home for rent for $3,400 a month.

“I had to beg my current landlord to let me live here, and I had to offer to pay $50 more to live here,” Dubecki said. That’s $50 she doesn’t have: it’s an embarrassment to Dubecki that she doesn’t have money let over to pay for things like indoor shoes for her kids at school.

Hepner believes Surrey’s tight rental vacancy will ease soon because the city has issued permits for over 2,000 apartment units, which will include some rental. Those units, however, are not yet complete. The city also issued 400 permits for secondary suites in 2017.

As for Hrelio, he’s hoping his neighbourhood will be quieter, and schools will be less full, come January.

“50 per cent of the kids in this neighbourhood are in illegal basement suites,” he said.

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