Statement on Marissa Shen Mystery

Our community is facing a tragic loss at this time. This is every family’s worst nightmare. At this point it is still a mystery, and this adds to the fear some of us, including myself, may have. I have young children too, and this will unfortunately haunt me for a long time every time my kids are out of my sight. However, I must also reiterate that this is a good neighborhood and community to raise our families. We all enjoy Central Park  and Maywood and the amenities they have, and we must continue to do so.

 

I do not know Marissa or her family, but I do know many people like them. My hope is that Marissa’s passing will strengthen our connectedness as a community. The death of an innocent child affects a community in ways many other deaths do not. Kids are not just statistics; these events remind us how important life is and how much we love our children

It is a sad fact that these tragedies, violence against girls and boys, happen in communities too often across Canada and around the world. They affect everyone in the community. To this day I recall hearing about the disappearance and death of a young girl in Kelowna in 1994. This event affected the entire city. The outpouring of support for the girl’s family was unprecedented. It reminded us that our families share more similarities than differences. It reminded us that our neighbours need us in difficult times,even when we may be separated linguistically, culturally or economically.  23 years later, Mindy’s name continues to remind us to be vigilant with our children and with  other people’s children as we share these public spaces.

My hope is that Marissa will similarly strengthen our community in Metrotown, bring us closer to one another, make us aware when situations don’t seem quite right, and encourage us to offer assistance when we see someone in distress.

This neighbourhood is a good place to raise children. It is a safe neighbourhood. It is a friendly neighbourhood. Only we can make it better, safer and friendlier. It begins with taking time to get to know our neighbours and having genuine concern and interest for the wellbeing of all those we come in contact with.

My heart goes out to the Shen family, I pray this mystery is solved quickly, so we do not have to live in fear for our children’s safety. I know we will all do whatever we can as a community to support Marissa’s family and friends. Let’s ensure Marissa is remembered and her passing helps prevent another tragedy like this from happening.

Rick McGowan

Is this Transparency?

Last night, January 23, I stopped by City Hall around 6pm. Evidently, councillors were in one of their increasingly common closed meetings from which the public is excluded. The agenda was not yet displayed. As of last year, a decision was made to not post the agendas for Monday evening council meetings until the preceding Friday afternoon.

The security  guard posted outside council chambers suggested the agenda might be posted outside the clerk’s office. While I did not see any useful agenda posted, I was intrigued by a small notice. I wrote down the details and a Google search found a similar ad posted in local news oulets as required by law.

4356-albert-advert

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is essentially a legal notice informing the people of Burnaby intends to sell a piece of property , 4026.78 square feet for $869,616.

According to my sources, the city owns over 400 properties. They do not disclose their whereabouts to the general public as it would compromise “the economic interests of the municipality” to do so.

As of 2015, the City holds “land inventory held for resale” valued at historical prices at $101,992,562. The property above is clearly one of these properties.

Where is this property you might wonder? Using the PID or “property identification number” and BC Assessment’s website, you can find the answer. To save you time here it is.

4356-albert2

Evidently, City negotiators will extract an additional $8616 above the previous year’s assessment.

Given the location of this property close to Hastings in the heart of the Heights, we wonder if this was a good deal for the City?

Comparable properties with “tear downs” in the area were selling last year for  $1.14 to 1.5 million.

A search of the numbered company, 1028651 shows  that on Feb 25, 2015 it was one of 37 numbered companies incorporated over a period of 10 hours, and it is impossible to tell who the principals are or if there are potential conflicts of interests with city officials.

This process doesn’t feel very transparent  or reassuring to us.

4356-albert-similar

4356-albert-similar2

4356-albert-similar3

 

 

 

Rental Housing and the RTB

Rental Housing

 

I spent the better part of my Friday morning at the Residential Tenancy Branch office in Burnaby. My goal was to sit down with a caseworker and discuss options available to a friend who rents in Metrotown. His rent was increased by 9.2 percent in just six months after his apartment building was sold to an offshore investor group. The building was then flipped to another group who raised the rent by $80 a month. Just before Christmas tenants received a letter with a court order attached. They were told to submit all previous rental agreements and send their all subsequent rent cheques to the new manager. Now my friend faces another potential rent increase at the end of the month.  Renters need more protection

 

When I got to the office, which was relatively quiet, I took a number and was told the wait was approximately 30 minutes. I sat patiently, looking through my friend’s agreements and subsequently finding the answers to the questions I had. The answer is basically my friend is out of luck. The lease that raised his rent by $80 after six months was set to expire and the box promising to vacate the suite at the end of the term was checked. This loophole allows landlords to raise rents at will.  If you choose this option, both the landlord and tenant must agree to it, but in a tight rental market, where older, affordable apartments are being demolished at record speed and no affordable housing being built to replace it this clause is not a choice. It is legalized extortion.

 

After a half hour, the bell rang for the first time, alerting another individual that his number had come up. There were four more clients ahead of me. Two clients had their children waiting and fidgeting  with them. I had my own children waiting for me at home, and recognizing that I had the answer to my questions already, I decided not to wait the interminable amount of time it would take to get a face to face meeting with a caseworker.

 

Before I left, I asked the lady at reception if this was normal. She indicated it was a slower day. She also informed me that this quiet office handled all the disputes across the province. Could they use more staff? Definitely. Justice delayed is justice denied.

 

The RTB provides general information about residential tenancies and they can help you complete forms. Unfortunately, they cannot give legal advice. If you want legal advice you will have to hire a lawyer.  They also provide a dispute resolution process. Applications for dispute resolution must be accompanied by a non refundable application filing fee of $100.  While it may be possible in some circumstances to get fees waived and obtain free legal advice, this will cost additional time and energy many low income renters don’t have.

 

The RTB is also the recourse for landlords. During my visit, I overheard two landlords discussing the difficulties they face trying to evict renters that were illegally subletting their rented space, or allowing their homeless friends to crash indefinitely in the rental. As a landlord myself, this is a serious and costly concern. Landlords face the same wait times and fees as renters and deserve better from our government.

15-renters

Yes

Overhearing the discussion, I began to question why are some tenants subletting or sharing their principal residences with seemingly questionable individuals. Obviously, there are too few housing alternatives for those living in poverty, escaping domestic abuse or facing demoviction. These “squatters” are, in fact, BC’s “hidden homeless.”

 

In country as wealthy as Canada, and without exception, every one of us should have a safe, comfortable home we can afford. Giving an additional $35,000 to an already qualified first time homebuyer will certainly get a lot of votes, but it will not address the demand for affordable, safe, comfortable homes for households with low to moderate income.

 

After my eye-opinion experience at its only office in BC, I am convinced that the RTB is profoundly underfunded. If the government can find $700 million to subsidize qualified home buyers they can find the money to invest in resolving disputes between renters and landlords.

 

They can invest in affordable rental homes close to transit. They can revise the Local Government Act and “tie” funding to ensure municipalities like Burnaby protect and replace affordable housing as it is demolished from the existing housing stock. This will help to reduce the “hidden homelessness” landlords are forced deal with.

Burnaby’s Affordability Problem Worse Than we’re Told

6650 dunblane

According to the Conference Board of Canada and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade as reported in MacLeans, housing affordability in Vancouver, as measured by median house price as a ratio of median household income, is more than double that of Seattle- 10.6 compared to Seattle’s 5.2. In the survey ranking the city against 20 others, only Hong Kong and Shanghai were less affordable. This statistic, while perhaps surprising to some and angering to others, is first and foremost misleading to Burnaby residents.

 

First of all, after gleaning statistics for median household incomes from data collected by compiled by Metro Vancouver based on census data and benchmark detached home prices from the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board, the regional value of 10 is close to what the Conference Board reported. That is true if the numbers are based on the last census in 2011. In that year the median income for the region was $63,347 and the benchmark price of a detached home in August of that year was $625,578. When we look at Burnaby stats, the ratio is somewhat more depressing. For Burnaby, the median household income was only $56,136 while the benchmark price for a detached home in Burnaby South was $958,600, putting the Burnaby ratio at over 17.

 

That was 2011; the results of the latest census won’t be out until February 2017. If income trends hold, the median household income in Burnaby should be around $62,000 for 2016. Regionally, incomes will be higher. The benchmark price of a home in the same neighbourhood in August 2016 was $1.7 million. This brings that ratio for Burnaby to 27.

 

Housing prices in Burnaby have outpaced the region for a variety of reasons. A house that cost around $650,000 in 2006 has risen in value by over a million dollars in ten years  Certainly, its proximity to Vancouver is a factor as is the Mayor of Burnaby’s commitment to “protect single family neighbourhoods” from densification. It is also a preferred destination for k-12 international students and home to Simon Fraser University and BCIT. These factors understandably increase demand.

 

These prices have also attracted speculators, flippers and investors that see housing as a high yield investment product rather than a home. Buying and selling property has become the economic driver of British Columbia. To keep the dream of homeownership alive, banks have offered the lowest interest rates in history and allowed generously low down payments that ignore the fact that people are saving less and less.

 

Cities sell density to developers who pass those costs onto the purchasers. Realtors collect commissions that might have made sense in 2001 when a home in Metro Vancouver cost $355,000 ($13,375). In 2016, a comparable home at $1.5 million nets realtors $42,000. These commissions are built into the price, so, ultimately, it is the buyer who pays. These are the straightforward commissions, but what about the incomes realtors have derived from the shady practice of shadow flipping?

 

In addition to legal, brokerage, banking and inspection fees, there are the taxes. The GST on a home in 2001 was about $700. In 2016 it is $2100. Then the province takes its share. The Property Transfer Tax Act was introduced in 1987 by the Social Credit Government. It was recently amended to exempt new homes valued under $750,000. On a home with a fair market value of $1,500,000, the PTT is $28,000. On an older $350,000 home the tax would be $5000. Each time a home is resold these fees and taxes are levied. When the investor resells the property, these payments are included in the markup, in addition to the expected return on investment. According to a report on Global Television earlier this year, one realtor, found that of a total of 179 homes on the west side of Vancouver that sold in the month of May, “28 had already been sold at least once in the previous 12 months.” The average profit made on each home- $1.14 million. While only 15 percent of properties are being flipped, neighbouring properties understandably appreciate as a result.

 

In the early 1990’s the PTT made up only about 3.5 percent of the Province’s revenues. In 2015 it comprised 4.6% of tax revenue. In contrast, personal income taxes, the largest source of tax revenue, comprised over 40 percent of revenues in 1994, but only 35 percent in 2015. Annual property taxes, which pay for schools amount to about 10 percent of the total. Unlike income taxes, the property transfer tax is a regressive tax as it does not differentiate between a wealthy invester and a family with just enough income to qualify for a mortgage and with barely a toehold on the property ladder. 

 

Commissions and taxes are paid each time the property is bought and sold, so when speculators resell their properties, which is what they do, these costs are reflected in the new selling price. Predictably we see the inflationary effect of treating homes as short and medium term investments. While Household incomes increased  23.5 percent in Burnaby, house prices climbed 156.5 percent.

 

Where does the money come from? Clearly, there are a lot of wealthy people living in Greater Vancouver. I marvel at the number of luxury and high end vehicles on our roads. These drivers, or their parents, obviously can afford the real estate if they have the income to buy such a sweet ride, or they are deeply in debt. With a median household income of under $70,000, it is difficult to imagine that the majority of this wealth is generated by the economy. Certainly, FIRE industry, finance, insurance and real estate   is based locally, but beyond that where does the money come from? The fact that Burnaby has the highest real estate prices and one of the lowest median household incomes suggests that the owners of the homes are not earning their income, (or not reporting it) locally.

Should Water be Metered in Burnaby?

While Metro Vancouver advocates for municipalities to meter water and called upon cities in 2011 to ” reassess the merits of developing residential water metering programs and municipal rebate programs for water efficient fixtures and appliances. 2015″, Burnaby has opposed the idea and only partially meters its water system. In Metro Vancouver, water usage is fully metered only in West Vancouver and Langley. For premises that are metered in Burnaby, the rate is $1.60 per cubic metre, with a minimum monthly charge of $50.21

Conservation Benefits

In 2011, a City spokesperson  said it would cost in excess of $10 million to install meters in 70,000 multifamily and single-family homes in Burnaby and more to read the meters, bill residents and maintain the infrastructure. This would have been a good expenditure of money given the ever declining snow packs and the fact that cities like Langley and Kelowna have found the political will to do it.

Consumption Data

Metering would also provide much needed up to date information on consumption patterns of residents. A 2002 study by the city of Toronto showed that multi family residences consume significantly less water per capita than single detached homes.  Multi-residential residents used 191 litres per capita per day versus 320 L/c/d for single family residents. Although Burnaby’s flat rate system does recognize the 60 percent difference in usage between the two lifestyles, It does not address the fact that some residents use more than their fair share. The flat rate the City charges is about three-quarters of what an average family of four would pay under a metered system.

Fairness

The reduced consumption rate for a family of four living in a multi-residential setting on average would spend $37.18 per month for metered water under Burnaby’s rates while the same family in a detached single family residence would consume $62.30. With a minimum rate of $50.21 per month, multi-residential residents would subsidize SFH to the tune of $13 a month.

To my knowledge,  residential water use in one and two family dwellings in Burnaby is not metered and property owners are charged a flat annual rate for water use.

Better Data on Vacancies

In addition, metering could potentially give the City additional information on home vacancy rates. In Melbourne, Australia, water-use records have shown that some 64,000 housing units were empty, accounting for the so-called “ghost towers” in the Docklands district where 17 per cent of properties weren’t being lived in. The media focuses on Vancouver when it comes to empty homes; meanwhile, Burnaby, which has a similar problem, chooses to remain in the dark.

 

http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/water/WaterPublications/DWMP-2011.pdf

http://www.burnaby.ca/City-Services/Property-Taxes—Utilities/Rates.html#Metered+Water+Rates

http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=fbbf3ee2-b384-4b68-9fa4-c67f854d45f5

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/water-restrictions-in-effect-for-metro-vancouver-and-fraser-valley-1.3113972

http://www.skylineliving.ca/assets/Skyline-Living-PDFs/Apartment%20Living%20is%20Green%20-%20Accessibility%20Friendly.pdf

 

WTF: 2015 SISTER CITY VISITS and PROTECTING TAXPAYERS

 

It is fascinating that the people who run this town brag about how their affordable housing policies protect taxpayers while at the same time throw away taxpayer dollars on junkets masquerading as trade missions. The most recent one that seems particularly unnecessary is the 12 day trip the Mayor, five councillors and eight city staff made to Hwaseong, Korea and Kushiro, Japan a year ago. If you weren’t aware of this trip, it is understandable. It received little or no media attention locally.

 

According to the City’s Statement of Financial Information or SOFI, the Mayor and Councillors Calendino, Johnston, McDonell, Wang and Kang expensed nearly $60,000. It can be concluded that, in total, the entire trip for fourteen people cost roughly $150,000. Four senior staff including now retired City Manager Bob Moncur, Deputy City Manager Lambert Chu, Director Planning and Building Lou Pelletier, Director Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services David Ellenwood, and four administrative support staff accompanied the delegation.

On the same trip were representatives from Tourism Burnaby. Tourism Burnaby is a non-profit society whose purpose is to support tourism promotional activities to increase visitation to the City.  Tourism Burnaby is made up of hotel representatives, a Burnaby Board of Trade nominee and two members appointed by Burnaby City Council. It is funded by a provincially authorized room tax currently at 2 percent. In 2015, Tourism Burnaby netted $993,113 according to the Burnaby Now, a 40 percent increase over 2014. Essentially, those working for Tourism Burnaby are also taxpayer funded City employees.

 

As far as I can see, the only documented benefit of this trip might be winning the bid for the 2016 WTF WORLD TAEKWONDO JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIPS to be held over 5 days in Burnaby. It is expected to draw more than 800 athletes ages 14 to 17 from 100 countries, organizers say. The estimated economic impact for the province in accommodations for athletes and spectators, food services and other related spending is $4 million, says the executive director of Tourism Burnaby. “We were on a visit to Hwaseong [Aug 28 – Sep 08, 2015], and they arranged it so that we were able to meet with the Taekwondo Federation,” the executive director said.

 

This would be great, but it appears that the actual bid was made months later. On April 12, 2016, the World Taekwando Federation reported on their website, Councillor McDonell, along with Tourism Burnaby Executive Director Nancy Small and Managing Director of the Korean Cultural Heritage Society of BC Michael Suk, who are both members of the local organizing committee, travelled to Mexico City in early December [2015] to successfully bid for the World Taekwondo Junior Championships in a formal presentation to the World Taekwondo Federation.

 

So, I have a few questions. Aside from a friendly conversation with the WTF, what did this delegation actually accomplish for Burnaby over those twelve days last summer in Asia? Was the trip to Japan and Korea a farewell tour for the retiring City Manager? Did we need fifteen plus people to do whatever needed to be done? And, how much did the follow-up trip to Mexico cost taxpayers?

 

Tourism Burnaby is paying for the championship’s estimated cost of $1.3 million, and there will be certainly be other costs incurred by the City. Meanwhile, as the City continues to allow the demovictions of its most vulnerable residents in Metrotown, it subsidizes its friends in the hotel industry with its secret and increasingly expensive trips.

 

According to the City’s Statement of Financial Information or SOFI, the Mayor and Councillors Calendino, Johnston, McDonell, Wang and Kang expensed nearly $60,000. It can be concluded that, in total, the entire trip for fourteen people cost roughly $150,000. Four senior staff including now retired City Manager Bob Moncur, Deputy City Manager Lambert Chu, Director Planning and Building Lou Pelletier, Director Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services David Ellenwood, and four administrative support staff accompanied the delegation.

 

On the same trip were representatives from Tourism Burnaby. Tourism Burnaby is a non-profit society whose purpose is to support tourism promotional activities to increase visitation to the City.  Tourism Burnaby is made up of hotel representatives, a Burnaby Board of Trade nominee and two members appointed by Burnaby City Council. It is funded by a provincially authorized room tax currently at 2 percent. In 2015, Tourism Burnaby netted $993,113 according to the Burnaby Now, a 40 percent increase over 2014. Essentially, those working for Tourism Burnaby are also taxpayer funded City employees.

 

As far as I can see, the only documented benefit of this trip might be winning the bid for the 2016 WTF WORLD TAEKWONDO JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIPS to be held over 5 days in Burnaby. It is expected to draw more than 800 athletes ages 14 to 17 from 100 countries, organizers say. The estimated economic impact for the province in accommodations for athletes and spectators, food services and other related spending is $4 million, says the executive director of Tourism Burnaby. “We were on a visit to Hwaseong [Aug 28 – Sep 08, 2015], and they arranged it so that we were able to meet with the Taekwondo Federation,” the executive director said.

 

This would be great, but it appears that the actual bid was made months later. On April 12, 2016, the World Taekwando Federation reported on their website, Councillor McDonell, along with Tourism Burnaby Executive Director Nancy Small and Managing Director of the Korean Cultural Heritage Society of BC Michael Suk, who are both members of the local organizing committee, travelled to Mexico City in early December [2015] to successfully bid for the World Taekwondo Junior Championships in a formal presentation to the World Taekwondo Federation.

 

So, I have a few questions. Aside from a friendly conversation with the WTF, what did this delegation actually accomplish for Burnaby over those twelve days last summer in Asia? Was the trip to Japan and Korea a farewell tour for the retiring City Manager? Did we need fifteen plus people to do whatever needed to be done? And, how much did the follow-up trip to Mexico cost taxpayers?

 

Tourism Burnaby is paying for the championship’s estimated cost of $1.3 million, and there will be certainly be other costs incurred by the City. Meanwhile, as the City continues to allow the demovictions of its most vulnerable residents in Metrotown, it subsidizes its friends in the hotel industry with its secret and increasingly expensive trips.

 

What Should be done with the Old Metro Vancouver Buildings on Kingsway?

It was reported in the Burnaby Now that Metro Vancouver is planning to shell out a total of $34.7 million to renovate its new home in the Leed Platinum Metrotower III. The purchase of the $205 million building was revealed quietly in December. Originally, the projected tenant improvements at the new location were budgeted at only $28 Million, “slightly less than the planned upgrades to the old office space.” The latest report reveals that Metro Vancouver expects to occupy 16 of the 29 floors. This is up from the original plan to occupy only 13 floors and lease the remaining floors which included 5 empty floors. This means there are three fewer floors for Metro Vancouver to collect revenue from.

Another uncertainty is the disposal of the old building. According to the Now,“while the mayor said the city has no interest in purchasing the building, he suggests it will probably become part of a bigger development.” The property is assessed at $86 million, and part of the plan is to use the proceeds of the sale to offset the $205 million price tag for Metrotower III.

Competing with the need to pay for Metro’s new platinum palace is the imperative to increase the supply of affordable housing stock. One suggestion that the MRA is putting forward is converting the two former towers, 10 and 19 storeys, built between 1983 and 1987, to affordable market and rental housing. With the potential demoviction of thousands of people from the neighbourhood, the necessity for public lands to be made available for affordable housing goes without saying. The City refuses to offer land in Metrotown for such a purpose as they insist it is not their responsibility. In this case, the City is not the landowner. Metro Vancouver has been a provider of affordable housing in the region and now has the means to succeed where the City has miserably failed. Why sell off the land and building, when it will likely be demolished?

989-nelson-st-3

There is a precedent for the conversion of an office tower to residential. The Electra at 989 Nelson Street in Vancouver, is the former BC Hydro building, which was redeveloped into condominiums in 1995.The building was converted into 242 residential units and has 205 commercial units comprising street-level retail and executive offices.  The building was originally constructed in 1957. Suites in this prime location range between $300,000 for a 500sf 1 bedroom to $1 million plus for a 1400sf 3 bedroom.

Metro Vancouver’s existing head office complex consists of two office towers located at 4330 Kingsway and 5945 Kathleen Avenue in Burnaby. The taller building has over 190,000sf of floor space. The smaller building has over 56,000sf of floor space. If all the space was utilized for housing, we could achieve over 240 units of affordable and market housing with an average floor space of 1000sf!

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By keeping the new units under $750,000, selected new homebuyers would be eligible for exemption from the property transfer tax.

Metro 2040, the region’s growth strategy, calls for 68 percent of population growth to be focused in urban centres and along the Frequent Transit Network. It also sees a transformative role for transit to create complete and healthy communities, providing mobility and access to residents while reducing their dependence on car ownership and driving.According to Metro Vancouver, “transit can be a means of creating housing and economic opportunities that are inclusive of low and moderate income working households.”

What can Burnaby do, in general,  to encourage the construction of affordable housing near transit?

  • Burnaby should set a strategic expectation for Metrotown and Patterson Stations to include affordable housing, and, on larger sites, new on-site purpose built rental housing units.
  • The City should set targets for market rental housing and affordable housing, including preservation of existing affordable housing, in the Skytrain corridor.
  • žBurnaby should prepare a Housing Action Plan that demonstrates how the municipality plans to achieve the estimated local housing demand for low and moderate income households.
  • It can, along with other levels of government, žfacilitate supportive and transitional housing for vulnerable populations by providing municipal land at low or no cost . ž
  • Burnaby should use its substantial Housing Reserve Funds to lever the development of new non-profit housing by providing grants, purchasing land for non-profit use, and reducing permit fees.
  • It should Adopt standards of maintenance bylaw to retain, renew, and enhance the market rental housing supply in a way similar to what the City of New Westminster has done, Secured Market Rental Housing Policy
  • The City can grant additional density to small scale residential developers, including cohousing groups, in exchange for on-site affordable housing units

Transit-oriented locations are highly sought after for redevelopment. Lack of affordable housing near transit is currently at crisis levels. We cannot wait on the implementation of  the grand vision for transit expansion that has been adopted by the Mayors’ Council to tackle affordability. Burnaby needs to equitably develop the 11 Skytrain stations it is blessed with. It must ensure that every transit oriented location has a mix of housing choices.

Media Realease: Green Party Leader to Tour Burnaby’s “Demoviction Zone”

August 15, 8:00am
For immediate release
The Metrotown Residents’ Association (MRA), an independent advocacy group for residents of Burnaby’s regional city centre, will be welcoming Dr. Andrew Weaver, leader of the BC Green Party (BCGP), on a Demoviction Tour.
Location: Metrotown Skytrain Station (at the bottom of stairs)
Time 1:00 pm Thursday, August 18, 2016

The MRA reached out to the three provincial  party leaders, through email, offering an opportunity to get a firsthand look at the area where thousands of vulnerable  residents are threatened by displacement. The BC Liberal Party graciously declined our offer at this time while the BC NDP has yet to respond. The MRA made the offer to the NDP leader through an email sent to the MLA representing the area, Kathy Corrigan.

“We are pleased that Dr. Weaver took the time to respond personally to our request. Affordable housing is an important  issue in the next election, and it is important that renters and condominium owners are protected in the  rush to intensify density around Skytrain,” says Rick McGowan, a researcher for the MRA.

Since 2010 we have seen dramatic growth  in the demolition  of affordable apartment units in Metrotown. Apartment  buildings are being bought up by speculative investors hoping to cash in on the City’s update of the Metrotown Development Plan.

“We believe The City’s commitments under the 2011 Regional Growth Strategy can be met without the displacement of the entire neighborhood, which is currently underway. “

A 12 day occupation in July of a building slated for demolition, Burnaby’s intention to adopt a new “built form framework” , predominantly high rises by December,and a possible investigation into violations of the Local Government Act regarding procedures for updates to official community plans have brought attention  to the rental housing crisis, part of the larger housing affordability crisis.

Accompanying Dr. Weaver will be BCGP Deputy Leader, Matt Toner BCGP Housing  Critic  Zarah Tinholt, and Freddy Marks, a Realtor with Sutton Westcoast Realty who is seeking the BCGP nomination for Chilliwack-Kent.

“For more than two years now I have been raising concerns regarding affordability in the BC Legislature. The government’s piecemeal, reactionary approach to this issue amounts to little more than blowing out birthday candles in a house fire. And the silence within the Official Opposition regarding the Burnaby Demovictions is deafening.  It’s important for me to listen to the concerns of Burnaby residents directly affected by what is happening in their community so that I might better understand the diversity of issues facing British Columbians,” says Dr. Weaver.

The tour will commence at 1 pm on Thursday, August 18 at the Metrotown Skytrain Station.

Inquiries: rickmcgowan13@gmail.com

Metrotown Condo Owners Beware

First we came for the First Nations’ land, and we did not speak out—

Because we were not First Nations.

Then they came for Japantown and  for Hogan’s Alley, and we did not speak out—

Because we were not Japanese or Black.

Then they came for our rented homes, and we did not speak  out—

Because we no longer rented.

Then they came for my home—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

Sound a bit dramatic? Maybe. Maybe not. This is the twenty-first century; we know better than our ancestors, our grandparents, our parents. We understand the importance of having a safe and secure home to live in and that displacement is not healthy for a community. We believe that in a democratic society our votes are equal, and regardless of our wealth, or lack of it,we can coexist in the same community. Unfortunately, the truth is we are not equal, and we are rewriting the laws to ensure rich and poor remain separated. I have spoken repeatedly about demovictions and the loss of my low income neighbours from my neighbourhood. I remind people that this displacement is not inevitable, but the product of bylaws implemented by the City to keep density low in other parts of Burnaby. But, now it is not just renters at risk of demoviction. Condo owners, like myself, face increased risk of being forced  out of Metrotown due to changes at the provincial and municipal level.  

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In the past it was difficult for developers to buy entire strata buildings.  This was because strata owners needed 100 percent of owners to agree to sell.  But the Liberal government has passed new rules that allow a strata building to be sold if 80 percent of owners agree to a sale. Two nondescript three-storey walk-ups in Vancouver were recently sold to a local developer, then flipped twice, resulting in a price increase of 400 percent in 30 months. Before you say, “Great, this strata made the deal of a lifetime!” it is important to recognize that it was not the original condo owners, that got rich. It was the two developers in the middle.

 

Under, the new 80 percent requirement, if ten owners in a fifty unit condo do not want to sell, they can be forced to do so by the other owners. There may not be forty other owners as realtors are scrambling to list your condo and your neighbours’ to sell to wealthy investor groups. Already, the flyers are coming in the mail.

In my case,  I own a two-bedroom, 1150 sf apartment in a three storey building. There are 25 units and the building was built in the early 90’s. The assessed value is $391,000. If four other owners and I do not want to sell for whatever reason, we can be forced by the rest to sell. If the building is sold at the assessed value, where can I find a comparably priced home near Metrotown? I can’t.

 

A second equally troubling problem arises about what is the fair value of this unit. Strata plans filed prior to July 1, 2000 contain a “schedule of interest on destruction”.This schedule is to be used to determine an owner’s interest in the land and personal property of the strata corporation when the strata corporation is wound up.  For strata plans filed after July 1, 2000, there is no longer a schedule of interest on destruction. The formula could unfairly distribute the payout  certain owners’ receive and allow investor-owners to neglect their property without consequence.

 

Most importantly, in addition to the Province making it easier for developers to scoop up condo properties as rental properties are demolished for high rises, The City of Burnaby’s NDP council plans to change the built form framework for Metrotown to allow high rises throughout the Area. This will incentivize the development of high rises on my low rise dominated street. The cost to a developer to purchase my unit is low, considering that they are spending up to  $750,000 per unit for low-rise walk up rentals south of the Skytrain.

Thanks to poet Martin Niemöller for using is poetic structure to convey this important message.

Sources

 

http://theprovince.com/life/homes/condo-smarts-different-formulas-set-out-rules-for-liquidation-payouts

http://goodmanreport.com/content/Reported_Apt_Sales_August%208%202016.pdf

OPINION: The costs of demovictions

This is a really powerful piece of writing explaining the problems faced by Metrotown’s low-income renters. It appeared in the Burnaby Now on July 28, 2016.

Saeed Habib / Burnaby Now

It has been strange seeing the building of my childhood and the recent home of my grandmother occupied by protesters.

When I first saw it, I felt a mixture of feelings: shock, because this hidden little gem of my childhood seemed to matter suddenly with all the banners and serious faces poking out from balconies, and sad because none of us was there holding up signs with them. Where was my family? I wondered, feeling ashamed and confused. Why didn’t we know we could have stayed and protested?

Two months earlier when my grandmother got her final notice, my family was buzzing with concern. My grandmother, who became paralyzed recently, was weeping silently in her wheelchair while the rest of the family tried to come up with a plan.

B.C. Housing was not a guarantee, and her pension was not about to adjust to market rent. None of us even considered appealing to Mayor (Derek) Corrigan after the aggressive series of demolitions, which had pockmarked the neighborhood and already displaced some of the family in the past decade

My grandmother: After surviving two wars, internal and external displacement from Afghanistan, multiple tragedies due to conflict and forcible relocation across Asia to Canada, 308-5025 Imperial St. was her first home in a long time.

She lived in that suite for 15 years, where her grandchildren experienced their first snow away from war, and her Greek manager learned to decipher her Farsi, and her visitors could enjoy the Wi-Fi lent by the nice young man next door.

All this community was written off with that single Notice of Eviction letter.

In this city, there is a lot you can choose to un-see. For years, I have unseen the Corrigan leadership’s failure to support the working poor, despite the fact that south Burnaby was home to large numbers of refugees, new immigrants and working class families.

As the foliage around Maywood Community School was cut down, we all grimaced at the suddenly stark grey neighbourhood, but none of us complained. Only rich neighbourhoods deserved their tall oaks, we understood.

Soon after, the neighborhood around Maywood, which housed so many of my friends, was bulldozed on infestation charges to make way for a shiny megalith that would house the mega rich.

Still, we looked away. Metrotown mall may have employed every one of us, but they obviously needed bigger wallets to enjoy the plaza.

It was easy to un-see the shutdown of Station Square, too, despite the loss of cheap cafes and restaurants where so many of our elders eked out some leisure between multiple jobs. The affordable cinema in the square was gone, too, in the same month that Cineplex raised their ticket prices, again.

Now, as we look for new homes, there is a larger pattern emerging that is harder for us to ignore.

In Coquitlam, newly settled Syrian and Iraqi families, who were so recently courted through the airport tram by our government, are being evicted because of the SkyTrain line that is opening nearby.

Hastings Sunrise, which has been a haven of affordable produce shops, cultural butcher shops and neighborhood solidarity, is seeing a rental hike as developers drive east. Downtown, tent city is up for another year, making the demands of community sound louder than the ill-conceived incentives of the pro-development city officials of Vancouver.

Where are we to go now? We wonder.

As my friends move further from the town that was our newest home, we wonder: how much longer can we help our grandmothers and neighbours and workers before our cities forget we exist entirely?

Saeed Habib is an 18-year-old student.

– See more at: http://www.burnabynow.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-the-costs-of-demovictions-1.2312480#sthash.I71BoZI1.dpuf