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Tenancy and blight : an examination of their causal relationship in a single family residential area of Vancouver, B.C. Coates, John Preston

Abstract

Urban Renewal in North America is turning its focus from Clearance and Redevelopment of already deteriorated areas to the Rehabilitation and Conservation of areas which are beginning to deteriorate. This preventative approach is deemed to be much less expensive as well as being effective for a much larger area. This new focus is backed up by federal legislation to provide financial assistance and by an increasing sense of collective responsibility in federal and municipal governments for the physical condition of the individual properties which together comprise the physical city. Single family residential areas comprise the largest single land use in most North American cities, and it is these areas particularly which could be aided by positive Rehabilitation-Conservation programs. It is frequently claimed that "absentee landlordism" is a major cause of residential blight. The absentee landlord has largely become a villain in the eyes of social reform groups who provide part of the motivation for urban renewal. Tenancy is defined for the purposes of this study as a form of tenure in which occupancy is by persons other than the registered owner thus objectively describing the same situation which is decried as "absentee landlordism." As the validity of the causal effect of tenancy upon the level of housing condition has been questioned by F.H. Hendricks, and as clarification of such facts is necessary before establishing objectives for Rehabilitation-Conservation this question has herein been investigated. The specific hypothesis is that: Tenant occupancy of urban single family residences (1) is a major cause of blight; and (2) requires special treatment in municipal Rehabilitation and Conservation programs. A review of the literature reinforced by a case study of tenancy in single family dwellings in Vancouver, B.C., suggested that there is reason to doubt such a causal effect. The relation between tenancy and poor building condition was verified for low income areas in Vancouver although it did not hold true for higher income areas. A correlation however does not establish a causal relation and subsequent analysis suggests tenancy is more caused than causal. The establishment of a general causal theory of blight by analysis of urban renewal literature indicates tenancy has a minor deteriorating effect on single family dwelling condition in areas already deteriorating. More significantly the theory indicates tenancy is caused by the two factors of encroaching incompatible land uses and low income, which are determined to be the basic causes of residential blight. It is concluded that in a consideration of the relation between tenancy and blight there are two areas of concern: low income which is a basic cause of both tenancy and blight; and the secondary blighting influence of tenancy itself within low income areas. It is in these low income areas that the incidence of both tenancy and blight are concentrated. A comprehensive urban renewal program is recommended which includes two essential features. They are increased low income family housing within viable neighbourhoods, followed by enforced renewal of blighted existing housing. Housing in the form of row houses or maisonettes could include the advantages of the single family dwelling while at the same time keep the cost of the required land to a minimum. Political factors suggest the financing of housing, as compared to increasing the financing of individual families directly, is also the more practical means of increasing low real income. It is posited that these two measures in the order recommended will expand the choice of the low income tenant beyond the supply of single family dwellings predominantly offered by speculators in rental housing, and will increase the low level of dwelling condition within the problematic low income areas without throwing an unmanageable financial burden upon the area's present occupants.

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