Surrey Council has asked city staff how they’re going to work with tenants in illegal Clayton suites.
Residents packed Surrey council chambers for more than two hours Monday night, many awaiting Surrey City Council’s comments on a report about the suites that are being decommissioned.
The city has sent letters to 175 landlords who have illegal suites, stating they must be removed by the end of January, 2018, in an effort to deal with an ongoing parking problem in the area.
While a report to council Monday night noted staff have received significant positive feedback about the move, it has also been met by much opposition, both from landlords, but also the tenants living in the homes.
After much discussion Monday evening, city council voted to send the report back to staff, asking for more information on how they would work with the people living in the illegal suites.
Councillor Bruce Hayne was the first to speak, and was met with applause from the audience after stating he’d “like to see more on this corporate report from staff.”
While Hayne and several other councillors said there was no point in having bylaws in the city if they’re not enforced, he acknowledged this is a “human issue” and said “we have to work very closely and compassionately with the community.”
Hayne said he’d like to see tenants worked with on an individual basis to “make sure lives aren’t disrupted to a great degree.”
“We have to do this in a very passionate and caring way and I don’t think this report completely addresses that so I’d like to see more information from staff on how staff is going to work with the community, how we’re going to communicate with the community, to achieve these goals.”
His comments were met with applause a second time.
Councillor Tom Gill said there’s no question there’s a parking problem in Clayton, but there are questions about how to fix the problem in a humanitarian way, and over what time period.
“How do we accommodate our residents to ensure we don’t have more people on the street?” he asked.
Gill put a motion forward to send the report back to staff, to address the concerns.
“Specifically issues I would like staff to deal with is to look at how we will be assessing individual cases. Whether you’re a senior, whether you have students… I want to be sure our youth have an opportunity to finish out this school year at the school that they attend. These are the kind of anomalies I’d like staff to deal with.”
Councillor Judy Villeneuve thanked all the residents in council chambers for attending, “because it’s a tough issue.”
She wanted to ensure there wasn’t displacement as a result of the illegal suites being decommissioned, assuring that council is “not turning our heads on the issue.”
The report before council stated there are many more legal secondary suites being built, but Villeneuve pointed out that those “may go quickly or be brought on board at different rates.”
But, like her colleagues, she said it’s important to ensure that “people who are abusing the system are made aware of that.”
Meantime, Councillor Dave Woods brought up the fact that the city has been collecting fees on many of Clayton’s illegal suites.
“Quite frankly, I don’t agree with that,” said Woods, asking how much money the city collects from these illegal suites.
“Every councillor sitting up here is very concerned about families. We’re concerned about the housing situation in the city, and it never is our intention… to displace young families that are in schools through the school year. I think that somehow we need to go back out to the community, Madame Mayor, and we need to convey in writing to the community, more what the direction of council is… But the bottom line is, I will tell you right now, my position is the suites are illegal.”
Mayor Linda Hepner said there have been more than 7,000 complaints about parking in the area.
But, she followed that up by saying the city has what may be the lowest vacancy rate it’s ever had, at 0.4 per cent.
“I think that’s contributing to our homeless count,” she said.
“In the midst of our haste to solve the parking problem, we have now confronted, and have, an enormous housing problem.”
She, too, called for more of a “transition” for those being forced to leave illegal suites.
City staff will now draft a report addressing council’s concerns.