A community picnic was held in Maywood Park on Saturday August 22 to bring attention to the issue of the loss of affordable rental housing in Burnaby, particularly in Metrotown.  It was a time to come together as a community and share concerns about the housing and displacement crisis in Metrotown as low-rise apartments are being demolished to make way for condo towers. It was also an opportunity to make connections with one another and build the  ongoing campaign to stop demolitions in Burnaby. Organizers of the “Stop Demolitions” campaign provided free refreshments and hot dogs to neighbours in the park.

picnic 2015

Residents that are facing eviction told their stories. One resident spoke of the inadequate notification and public hearing process. While the entire rezoning process averages around two years, tenants are only given ten days notice before the public hearing, these notices are obscure and those that speak out feel unsupported. “It is really a ‘private hearing’- not a public one,” said Cherie who faces eviction in February.

Cherie will be compensated under the new Renter Protection legislation passed by Burnaby council earlier this year. However, the advanced warning of the eviction puts her in a difficult situation. If her family of four vacates their one bedroom apartment prior to the eviction notice (expected around Christmas time), she will not be entitled to the compensation equivalent to three months rent.

But that is only part of the problem. some renters like Cherie may have the capacity to secure a mortgage, but the terms and conditions involved in purchasing a new home in a planned high rise are onerous. For example, a cramped one bedroom can start at $400,000 and require $40,000 down. That is a lot of money to save for a family of four with one breadwinner. Given the red hot demand from local and overseas investors, the first payment is often demanded within 30 days. Furthermore, lenders are often reluctant to approve a mortgage for a high rise that has not been built yet.

Another speaker, a former building manager in Maywood explained how developers will change managers to sever the relationships managers and tenants might share. Without standards of maintenance bylaws, buildings are often neglected and fall into disrepair. When eviction notices are finally issued, renters feel helpless to complain. Fired managers are often evicted themselves.

Representatives from the Social Housing Alliance, Metrotown Residents’ Association and ACORN also spoke.

Rick McGowan, who does research on behalf of the Metrotown Residents’ Association, pointed out that the City and Metro Vancouver deliberately underestimate the density in Metrotown to justify supplementary density legislation passed in 2010. Density, which is measured as population or dwellings divided by a given area, includes the 86 hectares of Central Park. “This is like including Stanley Park in the calculation of density in downtown Vancouver.” McGowan has determined that Since 2011, the city of Burnaby has sold $102,952,354 of supplementary density in the Metrotown city center. Of that amount 20 percent is earmarked for affordable and special needs housing anywhere in the City. He believes that 20 percent ought to be spent in Metrotown where the evictions are occurring.

McGowan also noted that in a recent Fraser Health study,  less than 50% of Burnaby residents have a strong sense of belonging.- the lowest in the Region. He partially attributes this to the rate of gentrification in town centers and the way the local government manages neighbourhoods through a strong centralized bureaucracy.

McGowan also pointed to a report issued last year by the BC Nonprofit Housing Association  and Vancity which Ranked Burnaby first overall in being unaffordable and inaccessible  to renters  provincewide. The Rental Housing Index provides a detailed analysis of the affordability of rental housing for various income groups in nearly 100 communities in BC.

Rick Erb co-chair of the Burnaby chapter of ACORN called for the City to enact standards of maintenance legislation and to consider establishing a rent bank in Burnaby. A rent bank  provides low interest or interest free loans for people in danger of eviction or essential utility cut-off. Such a program promotes housing stability and can reduce the costs associated with homelessness.
Erb also referenced a study by the Fraser Institute called “New Homes and Red Tape“ which ranks Burnaby as one of the top three municipalities friendliest to development. He noted the other two municipalities at the top of the list were, Maple Ridge and Abbotsford, are struggling with homelessness problem that are characterized by tent cities.