Our View: Is the Burnaby basement plan really about the housing crisis?

Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley has his task force on housing up and running, with the group meeting recently and a round of online public input received.

And not a moment too soon.

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The group PadMapper released its latest Canadian rental report and the numbers continue to look dire for people looking for affordable housing in our city.

Among the lowlights:

Burnaby ranked as the third-most expensive rental market in the nation last month, with the prices of one and two bedrooms settling at medians of $1,570 and $2,240, respectively.

The price of one bedrooms is up 11 per cent since this time last year.

That is a whopping rent increase. There is no way people’s wages are keeping up with this kind of hike.

Of course, the numbers should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt. A quick reveals there are approximately 305 Burnaby rental listings, compared with 1,300 in Vancouver.

The lower the number, the easier it is for a wild price fluctuation. So consider that. But the third-place ranking in Canada is consistent with the month-by-month PadMapper numbers, which Burnaby has remained one of the worst rental markets in the entire nation.

When people discuss housing solutions, the top of supply always comes up.

Some people, such as developers, will say we need to increase the supply of rental units to solve the problem.

That makes sense on the surface, but when you look deeper it’s too simplistic. If we just allow the construction of more high-priced condo units, that doesn’t really help regular folks.

We need a larger supply of affordable rental housing, which means putting more effort into the construction of non-market rentals.

Burnaby council members argued last week about one idea to boost the supply of rental housing. It involves a bylaw that would allow homeowners and new home builders to have more below-ground floor space. Current zoning restricts a home’s gross floor area (based on lot size) and the portion of that area that can be built above ground. This leads many homebuilders to maximize the above-ground floor area, leaving little-to-no gross floor area left over to build underground. The change would retain the existing above-ground restriction but essentially eliminates the gross floor-area limits. Cellars could then be built to be as large as the main floor of the home.

The hope is that people will expand their basements to add secondary suites to be rented out.

But Coun. Colleen Jordan isn’t buying it. She says the proposed bylaw doesn’t make it a requirement for that space to be a secondary suite. She thinks there’s an ulterior motive.

“The bylaw is not about the suite … never has been,” Jordan said. “It's just to allow bigger basements.”

We urge the rest of council to put in guarantees that these home expansions will become rental units. Reassure us that this isn't about boosting home values.

We need real solutions to the rental crisis.

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