Globe & Mail: Burnaby, B.C. residents fear rental apartments could become high-rises

Posted June 4, 2016

For more than 20 years, Jackie Lafoley has lived in a three-storey apartment building in Burnaby, where she moved with her daughter from Vancouver decades ago in search of more affordable housing.
Now, after seeing the neighbourhood around her change from many buildings just like hers to a growing forest of high-rise condominiums, she worries her building could be sold, resulting in renovations and increased rent or, more likely, demolition and redevelopment.
“I have seen people who used to live in buildings around here end up homeless because the rent has gone up so much they can’t afford it,” Ms. Lafoley said on Thursday.
“If it happens to me I can’t stay in this area. There is no way. I can’t afford it.”
A report to Burnaby city council last month by the Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign decries the loss of nearly 700 rental units to development in Burnaby since 2010 and made four recommendations, including that Burnaby put a moratorium on the demolition of rental apartments. The group is organized by the Alliance Against Displacement, ACORN Burnaby and the Metrotown Residents Association.
Council has said staff will review the report, titled A Community Under Attack: the displacement of vulnerable Metrotown residents by the City of Burnaby’s Demoviction development policies.
But city officials also suggested it was up to the provincial and federal governments, rather than Burnaby, to tackle affordable housing, and ruled out requiring developers to replace units lost to development.
“It’s not free, someone’s got to pay for it,” Burnaby councillor Colleen Jordan said on Thursday. “If we were to say to a developer, you’ve got to build so many units ... those 20 rentals are not going to be affordable.”
Without subsidies, there is no way to ensure the people being evicted could move into newly built units, she added.
Instead of a rental replacement policy, Burnaby has opted for other measures to ensure some affordable housing, including setting aside a portion of density bonuses – fees developers pay in exchange for the right to add more density than zoning would allow – for planned social housing projects.
A Metro Vancouver report card on rental enhancement measures used by cities in the region found rental replacement policies required a moderate level of investment and had a high level of impact. Density bonuses, widely used across the region, were ranked as requiring a low level of investment and providing a high impact.
Ms. Lafoley’s concerns are part of a widespread anxiety over the impact of soaring values on existing housing stock, including rental accommodation for people who are poor, disabled or on fixed incomes.
In Vancouver, a recent homeless count tallied the highest numbers in a decade. A city report card on homelessness released before the homeless count cited the loss of affordable housing as one of the key factors behind the issue and noted the vacancy rate for single-room occupancy hotels – long the housing of last resort for some of the city’s poorest, sickest people – has shrunk from 14 per cent in 1992 to four per cent last year and continues to fall.
In Burnaby, the development angst has increased with the city’s Metrotown Development Plan Update. That process, announced in May, will update a plan that dates back to 1977 and is expected to bring sweeping changes to a neighbourhood that includes two SkyTrain stations and a host of low-rise rental buildings.
“We know that over time that’s going to change drastically and that’s going to have a huge impact on those low-rise affordable buildings that are there,” Ms. Jordan said.
Many of those buildings were constructed with the help of federal subsidies in the 1960s, Ms. Jordan said, adding she would like to see the federal government do more work with city and provincial governments to preserve, plan and build rental accommodation, including social housing.
“We need massive building of social housing,” Ms. Jordan said. “And social housing that is for poor people ... regular poor folk who maybe live on an old age pension and have $900 a month for rent – not $1,500 or $2,400.”
Article by Wendy Stueck for the Globe & Mail