Metrotown neighbourhood already a high-density area, according to 2016 census

Maywood, one of the areas targeted for increased density in the Metrotown Development Plan and the subject of the demoviction controversy, is already one of the most densely populated areas in Metro Vancouver, a UBC researcher has learned.

Last May, Stop Demovictions Burnaby released a report A Community Under Attack outlining the issue of demovictions in Metrotown. In the report, the group argued Metrotown was already dense, and was only designated as moderate density because Central Park was included. The City of Burnaby responded on Sept. 13 last year with a 30-page report and the 100-page Burnaby Housing Profile 2016.

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“In summary, Metrotown compared with other centres in Metro Vancouver remains an urban centre with moderate density,” reads the city’s report refuting A Community Under Attack.

But according to UBC geography researcher Craig Jones, that is not true.

Jones was looking at the 2016 Canadian census data when he found the Maywood area had the highest level of population density in Burnaby. The Maywood census tract ranks 14 out of 459 in Metro Vancouver and apart from a neighbourhood around Joyce-Collingwood Station, the only areas higher are in downtown Vancouver.

“I didn’t expect to find that,” Jones said. “The (Metrotown) plan update is talking about densifying one of the most already dense census tracts in the entire region.”

Maywood, the roughly triangular area between Beresford and Imperial streets and McKay Avenue, is a concentration of purpose-built affordable rental housing built in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Rental buildings get older, owners can’t charge as much rent, and there’s almost a cycle of disinvestment that can take place,” Jones said. “Those areas tend to provide housing options for low-income (earners).”

Matthew Hunter is one of these low-income earners. He moved to his current apartment last May after he was evicted from an apartment a few blocks away on Imperial Street, which was demolished.

“It’s just this big gravel pit, and it’s been like that for an entire year. People could have still been living there,” he said. “There’s a shortage of rental housing and now you can go by where there used to be over 30 units there. Now they’re just gone, and it’s just a hole. It’s just ridiculous.”

Hunter said he is concerned his current building could be next.

“It’s just like a domino effect: they’re just going to keep demolishing more, just one-by-one,” he said. “They’re going to make it a very trendy neighbourhood, I mean it already is, but they’ll just make it a more high-end, rich, trendy neighbourhood as opposed to being a low-income trendy neighbourhood.

“It’s a great neighbourhood that is still affordable, which is almost impossible.”

Students from UBC’s community and regional planning department sent a letter to the city in March urging council to rescind the Metrotown Plan Update.

According to the letter, the Maywood area has nearly 3,000 affordable housing units and is both one of the most affordable and densely populated areas in the Lower Mainland. The people who live there are largely low-income earners, single-parents, immigrants, seniors and people with disabilities.

“Renters in Burnaby, and in the Maywood area in particular, make up a vulnerable population who are at severe risk of homelessness should the Metrotown Plan Update go ahead in its current state,” reads the report. “The plan to demolish the Maywood area’s affordable purpose-built rental housing stock without any provisions or policies that ensure the lost units will be replaced is both unjustifiable and irresponsible.”

Hollie McKeil is one of the authors of the letter sent by UBC’s Planning Students Association. She said the student group sent the letter to the city hoping for a chance to discuss how the city can meet its projections and priorities without displacing vulnerable populations.

“Maywood area has a lot of low income people, seniors and people with disabilities that will find it hard to relocate and find housing at the same price and the same location close to all those vital services,” she said.

McKeil said one option would be to create provisions for replacing purpose-built rentals, incentives, and improving existing housing rather than replacing it.

“Municipalities play a very limited role, but a very important role, in finding solutions, although the housing/homelessness (issue) is primarily their responsibility,” she said.

Mayor Derek Corrigan could not be reached for comment by press deadline.

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