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Burnaby will have 'best looked after tenants that Canada has ever seen': Hurley

Public hearing will include four rezoning applications for housing projects in Metrotown
demoviction rally
Housing activists will be returning to Burnaby City Hall Tuesday evening to oppose four rezoning applications.

Two activist groups that spent years protesting Metrotown demovictions will be returning to Burnaby City Hall to denounce proposed developments they say could displace vulnerable renters despite the promises of local politicians. 

Both ACORN and Stop Demovictions Burnaby (SDB) are opposing four rezoning applications in the Metrotown neighbourhood coming to a public hearing on Tuesday evening. 

The proposals were held up by a rezoning moratorium in place since while a housing task force formed a plan to make housing more affordable and displacement less disruptive for tenants.

The proposals:

  • A 35-storey condo building atop a six-storey rental apartment podium with 42 “affordable” rental apartments would replace a 42-unit, four-storey rental apartment building at 4960 Bennett St. (between Marlborough and Nelson avenues). According to BC Assessment, the property sold for $15 million in 2016 and was valued at $36 million as of July 2018.
  • A 37-storey tower with 332 condos and a six-storey rental apartment building would replace a three-storey low-rise apartment building at 6525 Telford Ave. All but one of the existing 54 apartments are already vacant, according to the city. The rental building includes the required 54 replacement apartments, plus 12 market rental units. The property was assessed at $51 million as of July 2018.  
  • A 43-storey tower with 409 condos, 15 townhouses and a six-storey, 92-unit non-market rental building would replace a rental apartment building at 6444 Willingdon Ave. According to BC Assessment, the property is currently home to a four-storey, 72-unit apartment building and is valued at $51 million.
  • A 34-storey tower with both strata and rental apartments and a four-storey “affordable” rental building would replace a detached home and three apartment buildings with a total of 36 rental units on three adjacent Marlborough Avenue lots. The developer wants to build 218 condos and 47 market rental units in the mixed-tenure building and 41 non-market homes in the other. 

The proposed plans all conform to the city’s new policies, including replacing demolished rental apartments on a minimum one-to-one basis.

The city says the developers have agreed to follow forthcoming tenant relocation policies that would require them to house displaced renters during construction and to give them first dibs to move into replacement apartments at the same rents as before. 

But the activists are leery. The new tenant assistance plan is not yet ironclad policy – and with “no legal obligation” for developers to house displaced people during construction, “tenants will be pushed into a new cycle of displacement,” SDB said in a press release. 

The group also denounced Burnaby’s definition of “affordable” rents in new builds as 20% below the market rates determined by the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation, saying it would allow developers to “use the most profitable definition for their sinister project.” SDB said the city should instead pin rents at 30% of a tenant's income.  

Members of ACORN, another group that spent years railing against Metrotown demovictions under former Mayor Derek Corrigan, also called on Burnaby to secure displacement protections before allowing Metrotown rezonings to go forward.

Developers are not following the proposed policy that would require them to subsidize the rents of displaced tenants in temporary rentals, according to ACORN’s Murray Martin. Instead, they are using “increasingly aggressive buyouts” to empty out existing buildings before they’re submitted for rezoning, Martin said in a press release.

“They (developers) are speculating that their rezoning approval will be passed without fulfilling rent stabilization obligations and fewer people push back at public hearings when buildings are empty,” he said.

The promised renter protections will be codified as soon as possible, with the new policy hopefully coming to council at its next meeting on Dec. 2, Hurley told the NOW on Monday. 

He said he understands why renters may have a hard time trusting a city government that has previously allowed so many people to be displaced. 

“I fully understand their suspicions and their fear that these tenants aren't going to be looked after but I'm very confident these are going to be the best looked after tenants that Canada has ever seen,” he said. “I think we really have moved heaven and earth to make this thing work.”

The public hearing begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Anyone wishing to voice an opinion on the proposals can do so in person or submit a letter by email ([email protected]), mail (Office of the City Clerk, 4949 Canada Way, Burnaby V5G 1M2) or fax (604-294-7537).