Burnaby-Edmonds MLA Raj Chouhan is upset over an empty B.C. Housing lot he says the provincial government is selling as part of the plan to balance the budget.
The nearly 19,000-square-foot lot is at the corner of 18th Avenue and Sixth Street in the Edmonds neighbourhood, and B.C. Housing is the owner.
"They've been saying they don't have enough space to build affordable housing in Burnaby, but it's right here," Chouhan said.
In the last provincial budget, the government said it would sell $625 million in surplus properties and assets to help balance the budget.
"All they are concerned about is their short-term political gains so they can balance their budget," Chouhan said. "It's like selling your house to buy groceries. It doesn't make sense."
The Burnaby lot went up for sale in January, before the February budget announcement, but Chouhan wants the property used for housing instead.
Chouhan said affordable housing is one of the biggest issues in his riding, and most of the cases his offices handles involve people with housing problems.
"We've been working with B.C. Housing, asking them to provide more units," he said. "All we're told is, 'Sorry, you have to wait.'"
The property is listed as a "townhouse development opportunity" on MLS, and the selling price is close to $2 million.
Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan also criticized the government for putting the lot up for sale.
"I don't think anybody should be balancing their budget by selling their assets. That doesn't make sense at all," he said.
Corrigan said the Liberals were leaving a trap for the next government by selling off provincial property. Also, if the government needs land in the future, the prices will be higher, he added.
Corrigan also commented on the longstanding tension between the city and province over social housing in Burnaby.
"One of the things I've said over and over again is the province keeps telling us they want us to give them land, but they are selling land they already have for market rates," Corrigan said. "This hypocrisy that goes on with (Housing Minister) Rich Coleman and his gang - that somehow they can't do these projects because there isn't land available, and the city has to produce land for it - the public believes that, and the media believes that and jumps on board criticizing us."
Corrigan's stance is that it's not the city's responsibility to provide housing.
"There's no way our property taxes could absorb that kind of expense," he said.
Chouhan said Corrigan was the one who tipped him off about the lot being up for sale. Corrigan told the NOW that he learned of the lot because the city was considering buying it.
"We wanted to see what land was being sold, because we wanted to see whether it was in our best interest to acquire it," he said. "We're asking the questions and researching."
The NOW asked to speak with someone at B.C. Housing regarding the sale, and the Crown corporation responded with an emailed statement, attributable to Housing Minister Rich Coleman and the Finance Ministry.
The lot in question is one of 16 properties being sold under the "release of surplus assets for economic generation program," mentioned in the 2013 budget. (According to the budget, the properties are expected to generate $260 million for the provincial coffers, and there are another 65 properties slated for the market for the 2013/14 fiscal year.)
According to the finance ministry, the public sector routinely disposes of properties and assets considered surplus to needs, and the program is providing revenue for the province and generating economic activity "resulting from new development and new business opportunities."
"In some cases, proceeds will remain with the government entity such as health authorities, school districts and in this instance, B.C. Housing and be used for providing vital services such as housing, health care and education," the statement reads.
The Burnaby lot for sale is next to Liberty Place, a Fraser Health assisted living facility owned and operated by the Howe Sound Rehabilitation Services Society.
In the emailed statement, Housing Minister Rich Coleman said he welcomes any housing proposal from local government.
"However, following the construction of Liberty Place, the City of Burnaby advised that they would not permit another social housing project on the property. They preferred to see market housing constructed. As a result, the remaining lot was targeted to be sold and developed as market housing," he said.
"The province works closely with municipalities and non-profit organizations to help increase the availability of affordable housing all over British Columbia. The B.C. government invests over $14 million annually to provide subsidized housing and rent supplements for more than 6,500 Burnaby households," Coleman said. "We have opened a number of developments in Burnaby over the last two years, including two assisted living developments for seniors and people with disabilities, housing for elder women at risk of homelessness and we have invested in renovations to family housing at Hillside Gardens."
Since 2001, the province has created 358 new units of affordable housing in Burnaby, he added.
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