Skip to content

Burnaby public hearing sees support, criticism of proposed BCGEU rental towers

Project would see 292 units of housing built, half of which would be locked in as "below market"
Northeast elevation view of proposed development by the BCGEU.

A proposed development project from a major B.C. union that would include residential towers with affordable housing, a child-care facility and a cafe received support and criticism at a public hearing Tuesday night. 

The BC General Employees' Union (BCGEU) recently submitted plans to the city for a mixed-use office, daycare, cafe and rental housing development on Palm Avenue near Royal Oak SkyTrain station.

The rental portion would include 292 units, of which a minimum of 50% will be locked in as below-market, affordable housing. 

According to city record, a total of 52 people spoke at the hearing, with the large majority being in favour of the project. 

Speakers question who will benefit from the proposed housing

"What is defined as below-market rent and to whom will it apply to? The privileged union members or the impoverished that were demovicted out of Metrotown? I was part of the demoviction movement and I don't believe for a moment that the BCGEU's priority is to help them," Burnaby resident Donna Polos said during the hearing.  

"A child-care facility in this highrise would not be suitable, as there are no schools in close proximity. It will put a burden on existing schools. I can relate to this because I am a retired Burnaby teacher." 

In an opinion piece to the NOW on March 25, BCGEU treasurer Paul Finch said the housing will be available to everyone, not just union members. 

"I also want to emphasize that, beyond much-needed office space for our union and much-needed affordable rental housing units, our proposal also includes a 49-space affordable child-care centre and community amenities," he said. 

Some at the public hearing also questioned if there was a conflict of interest between the union and council members, with some noting the BCGEU had backed candidates in previous elections. 

"I am disappointed in city council and that this proposal was not disclosed to the public. I found out about it recently, when I distributed the petition to the public, most citizens also were unaware," Polos continued. 

"This has created an environment of distrust and suspicion. Why do we need these towers here?

"Is it to appease the BCGEU, who supported many council members in the last election? Think of the residents of the Royal Oak Avenue area and their needs and not the BCGEU. Why wasn't this defeated in 2019 when it was presented to city council instead of referring it to the planning department?" 

Burnaby resident Katy Alkins-Jang, also in opposition, noted the project would potentially go against the community plan that was created in June of 1999. 

"This rezoning request deviates from a well thought out and agreed upon community plan, one which also deviates from the long-standing city of Burnaby is adherence to the community policy framework.

"I am not opposed to increasing density below market social or cooperative housing. However, this proposal is simply in the wrong spot."

Support for project revolves around need for affordable housing, child care 

Others touched on a strong need for below market rental and affordable housing, with many saying they won't be able to afford to buy a home due to current market conditions. 

"I'm very fortunate to have an affordable renting situation which is well below rental market value. But my particular situation is not the norm and I am aware that my landlord has an interest to sell, which means I will need to find alternative housing," another speaker said.

"At the current market rate, this is completely unaffordable for me. I worry every day about when this time will come. The average rental price in the Lower Mainland is well outside of my housing budget. And when this time comes, I will be forced to either live with someone I don't know, move back in with my parent who is facing redevelopment of her affordable mobile home housing community in Coquitlam or allocate a significant amount of my income to rent affecting my ability to save money to purchase my own home one day.

"I support the proposal because the BCGEU plans to have a minimum of 50 per cent of their rental units below market value. 

"We are living in a severe housing crisis that has permeated through both the housing and rental markets.

"As a young adult trying to financially support myself and create a life for myself in the Lower Mainland where I grew up, I am struggling as many others are. Any opportunity to increase the amount of affordable housing inventory is positive, needed and I believe should be approved." 

Burnaby resident Trevor Davies, one of the numerous speakers in support of the project, spoke about the significance of not only affordable housing, but also child care. 

"I say as a father, with a three and a half-year-old and a one-year-old, we were on waiting lists for childcare long before my three-year-old was born, and could not find a child care space in Burnaby. We ended up in New West.

"I know child care is not being developed as a fully public system overnight, and that any child care space, you know, takes pressure off the families and makes life more affordable. 

"I know one project, you know, doesn't change the world. But this is a start and hopefully a start of something that makes our communities even that much better." 

Area resident created petition opposing the towers 

Alkins-Jang also recently put together a petition against the project, saying those that live in the area believe the development is in the wrong location and would have "significant impacts" on traffic, parking and place pressure on school and community recreation facilities. 

Alkins-Jang is also concerned about the number of rezoning applications that the city is working on.

She told the NOW she felt compelled to publish a petition to garner support from others who live in the area who are also against the development.

'We're proud of this project': BCGEU

In an emailed statement to the NOW, the BCGEU said it was happy with the amount of support it received at Tuesday's meeting, saying it highlights the lengthy process the union undertook with the city planning department to make sure the project addresses key needs of community members. 

"Speaker after speaker shared personal stories of the housing crisis, in sometimes compelling and emotional terms that highlighted the incredible toll on young and old alike.

"They also expressed confidence in the lengthy diligence we’ve undertaken to make sure this project does not adversely impact traffic, parking and other community needs in the region.

"We’re proud of this project, but even more proud of the outpouring of community support for affordable housing next to the Royal Oak skytrain station."

- with files from Patrick Wachter, Burnaby NOW