Who is speaking out for renters in Burnaby? Certainly, it is not City Hall, which continues to allow the rezoning of older, affordable three-storey walk ups in favour of exclusive high rises that are unaffordable to 99 percent of the renters being demovicted. Councillors and the Mayor sweep aside their complicity in the housing crisis by pointing their fingers at the other levels of government for their failures. Certainly, the Province and federal government share the blame, and I will get to that soon enough. But first, it is important to critique the narrative the City chooses to tell.
Let’s start with the argument that the City is powerless to prevent a property owner from demolishing a building on their property. Technically, this might be the case, but economically, they can certainly influence the decision to demolish. By communicating to owners that the City will not rezone designated areas for high rises, developers will face the reality that it is economically more feasible to maintain an existing building, collecting rents than it is to tear it down and leave the lot vacant or replace it with a building of similar square footage. Furthermore, the City’s refusal to adopt standards of maintenance bylaws for buildings, its deliberate failure to maintain the road and pedestrian infrastructure or effectively enforce its existing bylaws in the area have helped to mislead the larger community that the area is a “slum”. This neglect, particularly under the leadership of Mayor Corrigan, has contributed to the shortening of the natural lifecycle of some of the buildings.
While other communities in Canada have proactively tried to protect and enhance affordable housing , Burnaby has won the race to the bottom. According to the Canadian Rental Housing Index, Burnaby ranks dead last of 523 municipalities studied across the nation. Despite this objective measure, the City has resisted accepting any responsibility for creating the situation. Supplementary density bonus bylaws have exacerbated the problem by making high rises more profitable as higher towers provide better views for wealthy investors. Affordable housing is not replaced in the affected town center where the extra density was purchased.
Now the City wants to “build on its successes” with the goal of making Metrotown a “true downtown”. To accomplish this, they say, it is necessary to further densify the entire regional city center. They want to approve a new land use framework by the end of this year. This will further incentivize developers to tear down existing apartments as areas where the remaining three-storey buildings currently exist are blanket rezoned for high rises. Without any rate of change policies, we can expect an acceleration in demovictions as long as global investor demand for our real estate continues. Make no mistake about it, this updated Metrotown plan is not about creating a more sustainable and inclusive community. It is about unadulterated greed fueled by a deceitful real estate and development lobby.
While Integrity BC reports, the BC Liberals have, since 2005,raised more than$70.2 million from businesses and corporations, fundraisers and donors such as “Condo King” Bob Rennie and Ledingham McAllister Developments contribute thousands of dollars to Burnaby’s local NDP. Money flows freely to the seats of power as their developments and proposals receive the blessings of government. To illustrate how these contributions lead to bad decisions for taxpayers, we need to look no further than Edmonds. Here, BC Housing is poised to hand over several acres of prime real estate to Ledingham McAllister developments in exchange for the construction of two midrise apartment buildings with 180 units of affordable housing. One building will provide 90 units of seniors’ housing, which undoubtedly is a good thing. However, the other 90 units are only going to replace the townhome style units that families will be forced to give up. The City’s role in this giveaway of land to a developer is the promise to rezone for high rise market condos and the infrastructure upgrades that will be required. They will spend $8.5 million of the affordable housing money derived in Metrotown in another part of the city.
McAllister Developments donated $10,000 to the Mayor’s political party in 2014. An amendment to the BCA’s financial disclosure documents indicates McAllister Developments contributed an additional $5,000 to the BCA in 2013 .McAllister donated $69,900 to the BC Liberals in 2013/2014
Supporters of both the Liberals and NDP need to ask themselves if this is this the best deal for taxpayers?
Now the provincial government hopes to get in on the lucrative density-selling business. “The Liberals are also linking provincial support for transit expansion to the need to increase “densification” — the concentration of housing units — along transit lines,” according to Vaughn Palmer in the Vancouver Sun. It will be interesting to watch fight over which level of government is entitled to these densification payments.
Evicted renters are struggling to find housing they can afford in their neighbourhoods, and our MLA, Kathy Corrigan, spouse of the Mayor is deafeningly silent. Similarly, Our federal MP, Kennedy Stewart is missing-in-action when it comes to demovictions in Burnaby. Both quick to shield the local government from any criticism. One glimmer of hope in the otherwise impotent BC NDP is David Eby, housing critic, who stated to CKNW that Burnaby’s policies are “out of step” with the region on housing.