Increasing property prices force Robson street businesses into bankruptcy

By Lisa Tanh

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says small business owners on Robson Street are struggling to pay their bills because of high-density upzoning and increased property prices.

Last Thursday, Chandra Herbert spoke at the B.C. legislature on the lack of support towards West End small businesses. A number of them are struggling to make bill payments even after doubling their sales and are being forced to declare bankruptcy.

Chandra Herbert said these emerging issues are the outcome of the West End Community plan that was approved by city council in 2013, the out-of-control housing market that has driven property prices through the roof and a commercial real estate and leasing sector that prioritizes commercial landlords over small businesses.

“I’ve spoken with business owners on Robson Street [who] can’t pay the bills – even when they’re having their most successful seasons yet,” Chandra Herbert said in his speech. “I’ve spoken to commercial landlords who don’t want to pass the costs on and want action to support their tenants. Many tried to get this fixed with the government, but locally, provincially, there were reports after reports, and too little got done.”

Chandra Herbert and Stephen Regan, the executive director of the West End Business Association, both said split class property assessments between BC Assessment and the city is needed. According to BC Assessment’s website, a property with several different uses can fall into more than one class which can increase the value of the property.

“In the case of Lower Robson, the increased density will most certainly be residential,” Regan said in an email. “Because it is located over one and two-storey commercial, [it] is not taxed at a residential rate but at a commercial rate. The commercial rate is four to five times higher than residential. So that is an issue.”

On Feb. 21, the City of Vancouver held a meeting on how they can further support small businesses and retail. According to a report, a few proposed plans include working with provincial government to develop favourable tax policy options, finding options to support retention of longstanding businesses and evaluating the current state to make recommendations on how to support viability.

[Photo Credit: Justene/Flickr]