Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley found himself defending the city’s track record on rental housing after some city councillors hinted it should require developers to build more rentals.
Amid discussion last week around a large-scale master plan for Burnaby Lake Village, which plans to build thousands of new homes, Coun. Daniel Tetrault noted there wasn’t a breakdown of how many purpose-built market rentals the development expects to build.
He said he hopes the city’s upcoming community plans will include more purpose-built rentals “going beyond” what is voluntary for developers to build.
“Just relying on the developer to build purpose-built rentals is not necessarily going to work,” Tetrault said. “And we can’t depend on that. And so I’m hoping and maybe we need to look at some of our bylaw changes.”
Coun. Alison Gu said the city needs purpose-built rentals to give tenants housing security.
“Purpose-built rental allows a renter to plan a future in Burnaby and to stay in Burnaby as long as they wish, rather than be at the whims of whether or not the market changes and the rent can be drastically increased,” Gu said.
She noted there’s additional population growth on top of what the city’s rental targets planned for, suggesting “the need is even further than what is expected.”
Instead, hundreds of rental units have actually been lost since 2020, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. data.
Data crunched by Vancouver city staff in April showed Burnaby falling behind regionally, as it lost 690 rental units between 2017 and 2022 (and since 2012’s total of just under 13,000, the city is down almost 1,350 rentals, according to CMHC).
While Burnaby is building almost as much housing as Vancouver, 87 per cent of the units under construction in Burnaby are ownership housing and just 13 per cent rental (compared to Vancouver’s 53 per cent ownership and 47 per cent rental), according to data pulled by the City of Vancouver.
‘Trying to catch up’
But Mayor Mike Hurley defended the city’s work on rental housing.
“I don’t want to leave this meeting tonight having the public thinking we’re doing nothing, because we went through a 30-year period where rentals didn’t get built at all.”
Hurley cited the city’s most recent rental housing summary, which indicates 11,721 “total rental units at all stages of the development process,” including 6,997 non-market rentals and 4,724 market rental units.
“So we are pushing forward – hard – on rental units within the city. It’s just that we have a deficit that we’re trying to catch up to,” the mayor said.
But local housing advocate Joel Gibbs says that defence relies on a generous reading of the data.
The city defines “the development process” as including any housing that’s either in the rezoning process, received council approval, under construction or tenanted.
Gibbs noted some of the in-stream units might never be built.
“’All stages of planning’ – some of those will never be built, or might not be built for 30 years, because for whatever reasons, ‘Oh, market conditions changed, so we’re not doing this.’”
He also estimated about 10 to even 30 per cent of the 11,700 purpose-built rentals in “all stages of planning” are simply replacing the rental buildings demolished due to redevelopment for towers under the city’s rental use zoning policy.
“It’s just been tearing down walk-ups for condos. That’s what was happening (when) Derek Corrigan got kicked out for demovictions. And that’s still happening.”
“While that 11,000 number can seem great, when you actually think about what that means on a yearly basis, it’s tiny. … It’s a nice big number to say, but it doesn’t mean anything.”
Gibbs says the solution is to allow and require rental housing on more land throughout the city.
When it comes to the Burnaby Lake Village master plan, he says, “You can just require (rentals), saying, ‘We’re creating this massive, essentially, profit for developers with this increase in land lift – we’re going to create rental because that’s what our community needs.’”
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