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B.C. union says its Burnaby affordable housing proposal will 'change the game'

The BCGEU seeking rezoning for a pair of towers totalling rental 300 units, along with office space for its Lower Mainland HQ and affordable child care
bcgeu hq - jg
The B.C. Government and Services Employees' Union is looking to move from its current Lower Mainland headquarters in Vancouver to a new location in Burnaby.
A B.C. union is seeking to set up its headquarters in the Royal Oak area of Burnaby, with a proposal it says will “change the game” for affordable residential developments.

A rezoning application was introduced at city council’s Dec. 7, 2020 meeting, where staff were given the go-ahead to work with the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) to develop the proposal into a bylaw amendment. The rezoning application is intended to make way for the union to build its headquarters and two mid-rise towers of rental housing over five lots on Palm Avenue.

Those two towers are expected to house roughly 300 residential units, at least half of which are expected to be “affordable” – if not all of them, according to BCGEU treasurer Paul Finch.

By comparison, the city only requires multi-family developments to include 20% “affordable” rentals.

“We think that’s too low. So what we’re saying is we’re going to do a minimum of 50%, but we’re going to aim for 100%,” Finch said.

“What we’re going to do is any profit we make on this project we’re going to pour back into making more of the units affordable,” he said. “If there’s profit after that, we’re going to look at making them more affordable, more deeply affordable. So that’s the model. (We’re) super proud of it.”

Finch said he wants the 50% affordability model to be made the standard in developments – but that isn’t a new idea from the BCGEU. Back in July 2018 at a rally against demovictions in Burnaby, Finch similarly called for 50% affordability to be mandated in the city’s rental policies.

“Affordable,” in the case of the BCGEU project, is defined as something sustainable on a working-class wage. Finch said the union wants its members to be able to afford to live in the building.

By comparison, the city’s definition of “affordable” in its rental zoning policy is 20% below the median rents in the neighbourhood as recorded by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

The building is also expected to house an affordable child-care centre, which Finch said will likely include both preschool-age child care and school-age care.

The number of spaces and how affordable they would be are still yet to be determined, Finch said, with the project still being fleshed out.

“We just have our general commitment to affordability and providing spaces,” Finch said.

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