Redevelopment wraps up for South Van churches

Congregations choose between rental housing and condominiums to add stock to Vancouver’s housing market

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Updated to include comments from Scott Erdman and Don Evans

By Laisa Conde

South Vancouver churches are assessing their community’s needs as they redevelop their land to add supply to the housing market.

Congregations, which have had to choose between creating social housing or strata condominiums, have followed different philosophies in converting their land.

Vancouver currently has a 1.2 per cent vacancy rate in purpose-built rentals, the lowest of Canada’s major cities, according to a 2022 report by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. In southeast Vancouver, including the Oakridge neighbourhood, the vacancy rate sits at 0.6 per cent.

Putting churches in the driver’s seat of their future

Scott Erdman, who wrote his urban studies master’s thesis at SFU on church redevelopments, said redevelopment puts churches in the driver’s seat of their own future.

Erdman said the common narrative for churches being redeveloped is framed as one of struggle, where churches have aging assets that they can’t afford to maintain. “In nearly all the cases, the churches view these projects as an opportunity and they’re using that as a way to leverage their assets and to expand what they offer the community and also to shift their roles,” said Erdman, who is also a City of Vancouver rezoning planner but has not handled any church projects.

Don Evans, a director of property development for the United Church of Canada, said redevelopment takes a long time, but it allows congregations to focus on their mission rather than maintaining their buildings.

“It also has a very positive emotional effect on people. Having a new building to worship in is … like wearing a new shirt, you know, it feels good,” Evans said. “It helps to revitalize the communities of faith that are worshipping and in serving the communities.”

Building new housing

Oakridge Lutheran Church, located on West 41st Avenue, chose to build 46 rental housing units.

“The congregation wanted to leave a legacy for future generations,” the president of the church council, Hannelore Gerlach said. “Looking at the need for housing, especially at rental housing that is affordable, it was not a very difficult choice.”

Gerlach said the decision aligned with the church’s values.

“It’s caring for each other. It’s caring for the neighbour,” she said.

A five-minute walk east of the Lutheran church, Oakridge United Church replaced its old church space with a new building including 49 condominium units and a sanctuary.

Rev. Heather Joy James stands beside the lectern in front of a large stained glass window depicting Christ on the cross
Rev. Heather Joy James is the minister of Oakridge United Church. Photo: Laisa Conde.

Mixed-use space opens to the neighbourhood

Rev. Heather Joy James, the church’s minister, said the decision was made to create a space, including a coffee shop, for the whole neighbourhood.

“It was both profitable for the developer and the church found that it was a way that we could do sustainable ministry here,” she said.

James said the money gained from Oakridge United’s strata housing will be used to fund new social housing and other ministries, like Lakeview Multicultural United Church, which is adding 104 new rental units near Trout Lake.

“In this specific instance, the Oakridge United’s base was chosen as strata condo,” she said. “Because we decided that there are other places in the church that need specific social housing.”

Michael Sames, facility manager of Oakridge Lutheran Church, lives in one of the building’s new units. After the building he had lived in for 20 years was sold, he moved into the building at Oakridge Lutheran.

“This was just at the right time, in right place,” Sames said. “In the same time, I joined the council of the church, and it was a blessing.”

Watch the video to hear Rev. Heather Joy James and Hannelore Gerlach outline their churches’ motivations for redeveloping into mixed-use spaces

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