Burnaby renters don’t trust city’s promises after ‘evil’ history

Residents fearful of displacement tell local politicians they don't trust them

Over the course of a marathon public hearing Tuesday evening, one thing became clear: many Burnaby residents don’t trust their local government. 

Nine rezoning proposals were up for discussion, but it was the final four that attracted dozens of speakers who stretched the meeting over five hours.

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The four proposed developments were the first major Metrotown projects to come to a public hearing since Mayor Mike Hurley initiated a moratorium while the city recalibrated its housing policies.  

The four projects would add hundreds of new condos and rental apartments to the neighbourhood – but they would also demolish more than 200 rental apartments and displace hundreds of residents. 

  • 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. 

One after another, activists and local residents pleaded with city council to pause the rezonings until the city’s promised new tenant assistance program becomes law. 

Hurley and the city’s head planner, Ed Kozak, repeatedly promised the rezonings would not pass final adoption until that policy is in place. The mayor has promised demovicted Burnaby renters will be the “best looked after tenants that Canada has ever seen.”

In July, council unanimously endorsed the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Housing’s final report, which included a proposal to require developers to rehouse displaced tenants in new buildings at the same rent and to help them find interim housing during construction. 

But the policy has yet to come to council as an official bylaw amendment. And many speakers said they still live in fear of displacement without the city’s promises written in stone. 

“You ran on a platform of 'Time for change,' “ Metrotown resident Alaidjah McGlynn said, referencing Hurley’s 2018 campaign slogan. “But over the last year I have not seen change. I've seen uncertainty. I've seen gentrification. And I've seen displacement.”

Many speakers referenced the mass displacement in Metrotown that saw thousands of low-income renters evicted to make way for massive new condo towers. 

“This history of this council is evil,” Stephen Samuel said, noting the same people still sit on council as during those demoviction years (other than Hurley and Coun. Joe Keithley). 

“We know the history,” Hurley said before warning Samuel not to make personal attacks. 

Hurley said the tenant assistance program will come to council as soon as possible, hopefully at its next public meeting on Dec. 2. And the policy will be even stronger than what was proposed by the task force, he said. 

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