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Anti-poverty group protests lack of Burnaby rentals

Members of the Burnaby chapter of ACORN say expensive condo towers are going up in the city and pushing low and moderate income residents out.
Members of the Burnaby chapter of ACORN protest Tuesday across from a condo tower under construction on Nelson Ave.

Under the hot midday sun Tuesday (July 29) about 20 members of the Burnaby chapter of the anti-poverty group ACORN protested what they say is a lack of affordable housing in their city.

The group gathered across from The Met condo tower under construction on the 6500 block of Nelson Ave.

Protestors, many wearing ACORN T-shirts, waved their organization’s flags to honking cars and carried placards, some reading “Where do our renters go?” and “Don’t tear down our affordable homes.”

“We are not protesting this particular building, we are just making an action for all the highrises that are going up,” said Monica McGovern, chair of the Burnaby branch of ACORN.

McGovern, who has lived in Burnaby for 38 years and currently lives in a housing co-operative in East Burnaby, said she sees older rental units being torn down and replaced with condo towers that are for sale for more than any low or moderate income workers can afford.

A two-bedroom, 1,198 square foot unit in The Met, a Concord Pacific development, is advertised online for $902,800.

The average price of a unit in the building is around $400,000.

Much is lost, McGovern said, when low income people are displaced.

“It is not just a house, it is not just a home, it is a community,” she said.

McGovern said when displaced renters can’t find affordable housing in their community it can mean kids have to change schools, and older people have to leave services and friends behind.

She would like to see those in power take responsibility for the issue.

“I think it is criminal that all levels of government, the city, the province and Canada, are not getting involved in building any more low income or moderate income housing rentals,” McGovern said. “We are going to keep pressuring them, they have elections coming up.”

Burnaby city councillor Nick Volkow said he supports the protestors raising the issue, but said the city’s hands are tied.

“People will say, ‘Oh, that is a dodgey answer,’ but the city can really do bugger all to be quite honest about it. The issue of housing falls — it is a federal and provincial responsibility constitutionally,” he said by phone Tuesday afternoon.

“It is not ours.”

Volkow said affordable housing is a problem in cities across the country, not just in Burnaby.

He said the best the city can do is keep pressuring for a national housing strategy.

“We used to have federal and provincial cooperation on co-op housing which is one of the best affordable housing schemes we ever had in this country, and it disappeared 20 years ago,” said Volkow.

Rich Coleman, provincial minister for housing and social development was not available for comment on the record for this story.

This story has been updated since its original posting to reflect new information.