“We need your protection.”
That was MariLou Gazzingan’s plea to Burnaby city council at a public hearing on June 27 as she spoke on a redevelopment application that would mean the demolition of her Metrotown rental apartment and her family’s eviction.
Gazzingan, a single mom and resident of 6645 Dow Ave., said it was her first time speaking to council.
“I am employed full-time. I’m a single mother of two children, and I’m about to be homeless,” she told councillors.
Gazzingan isn’t covered by Burnaby’s tenant assistance policy (TAP), which protects renters displaced by development.
She’s not the only renter falling through the cracks of the TAP.
The TAP has developers pay rent top-ups for interim housing while new buildings are under construction, and it requires building replacement units (with right of first refusal for displaced tenants) for all rentals demolished.
But the TAP applies only to renters who live in the building at the time the rezoning application is made.
The rezoning application for Gazzingan’s building was made in 2018.
She said she wasn’t told of the rezoning application in her tenancy agreement when she moved into the building in 2020 with her sons.
The developer Peterson (as Dow Beresford Development Limited Partnership) is applying to demolish the 112 rental units, across five buildings at 6645 to 6707 Dow Ave., to build two highrise towers, three strata townhomes and a six-storey non-market rental building.
‘When the axe falls’
Renter Jessica Li is in the same situation as her neighbour Gazzingan.
“This rezoning process will result in me being kicked out of my home without any kind of assistance or any help with housing thereafter,” Li told council at the hearing.
She noted she has a disability that prevents her from working.
“I’ve been trying to find a place to rent for something close to what I’m renting now. And I can’t find anything that can house me and my cats for anything less than — at the very minimum — double what I pay now.”
“I don’t know of anyone who can afford to suddenly pay three times their current housing costs,” she added.
Li and Gazzingan both pay about $850 per month for their respective one-bedroom rentals, they told the NOW after the hearing.
The current average rent for a one-bedroom rental in Burnaby is $2,374, according to Rentals.ca. In the Maywood neighbourhood (south of Beresford Street and north of Imperial, including Dow Avenue), one-bedrooms on average are about $2,700, according to Zumper.com.
Li just missed the deadline to be eligible for the TAP, having moved into Dow Avenue in early 2019.
She said it was “a shock” when she found out the building was going to be demolished.
“It causes me a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety and thinking about what’s going to happen and what I’m going to do when the axe falls.”
No relief under current policy
Li asked why the TAP excludes renters who currently live in the building about to be demolished.
“Why are we not offered the same assistance and protections — or any protections and assistance — that our neighbours get?” she asked.
Ed Kozak, the city’s general manager of planning and development, told council, “There is no policy that would provide relief” to the tenants ineligible for the TAP.
“Unfortunately, staff are bound by the policy, which contemplates those eligible are the tenants that were there at the time of the application, and the replacement units that are generated at the time of the application,” he said.
But he added developers and landlords should be notifying new renters about the impending rezoning and demolition, explaining that the previous tenant would have been eligible for the replacement rental unit and tenant assistance.
“But we (city staff) don’t review tenancy agreements,” he said.
Kozak said if a developer doesn’t notify the new tenants of upcoming redevelopment, it isn’t fulfilling its obligations under the TAP, and council could nix the rezoning and development.
Allan Fernandez, a tenant of 6645 Dow Ave. who is eligible for the TAP, spoke in support of his neighbours.
He said he knows of six previous Dow Avenue tenants who were eligible for the TAP protections but moved to Alberta.
He asked staff if those replacement units the previous tenants were eligible for could be given to four families who are not currently eligible for TAP.
Kozak replied that the city “can certainly try and accommodate those needs,” if there are residents who aren’t returning and there are extra units available, and if the developer is willing to work with the city.
Fernandez said he’s not opposed to redevelopment, as the city needs to build. But he asked for the city to think about all its residents, not just those covered by the TAP.
“The city needs people like me as well,” he said. “You need poor people. Lower-income people. Floors in our businesses don’t clean themselves. Food for sale in our restaurants cannot cook themselves. Nannies need a place to live too. Retail workers need a space to call home. Health care professionals aren’t all rich. I implore this council, please protect us.”
Li said she was “absolutely crushed” when she learned she wasn’t eligible for the TAP protections.
“All I’m asking is for the City of Burnaby, for the council, for the developers, to treat us the same as our neighbours. They deserve the help from the tenant assistance policy. We need help too.”