Tri-City News: Tenants' activist promises action on Coquitlam demovictions

Posted October 2, 2019

A tenant rights organization is speaking out against a Burquitlam highrise development it says will displace low-income renters.
Murray Martin, a spokesperson for ACORN's Burnaby chapter, called the 482-unit, two-tower project on Farrow Street a "demoviction" and said his group would be re-focusing its activist efforts in Coquitlam, which has seen record-breaking development in recent years.
"We have an established chapter in Burnaby that has been fighting demovictions," he told The Tri-City News hours before a public hearing on the proposal. "Coquitlam is next on our target list."
Boffo Developments intends to build a 46-storey market tower containing 348 units and a 20-storey rental tower with 134 rentals, including 21 non-market rentals. The project would be built on land that is currently occupied by a 45-unit rental building constructed in 1967 and a 45-unit market condo built in 1977. Council unanimously approved fourth and final reading for the project Monday.
Martin acknowledged the new buildings would add rental units to the neighbourhood but noted they would command significantly higher rents than what currently exist on the site. Most tenants at 720 Farrow St. pay between $800 and $1,000 per month, he said, while rent on a new unit would be significantly higher.
"They are completely unaffordable," he said.
He urged council to look at policies being considered in Burnaby that would allow tenants displaced by demolitions the chance to move into replacement units, according to the Mayor's Task Force on Community Housing Final Report. Developers would also have to provide moving assistance and top-ups for rent in temporary accommodations beyond current rental rates, the document states.
Martin said Coquitlam has had a "free ride for the last few years" when it comes to new developments displacing existing low-income renters.
"Tonight is a signal that there is no more free rides," he said. "You are going to get push back on these demovictions."
Two residents of the current rental building also spoke out against the Boffo project.
Kate Mills said a strong sense of community exists in the area that would be destroyed if the building is demolished.
Dean Elias, another resident, said he suffers from a disability and likes being close to transit. He said he doubts he could find something in his price range close to SkyTrain if he is forced to move.
But Boffo vice-president Jim Ellis told council his company is doing everything it could, including offering available units in the company's other properties, to accommodate residents and assist with their transition.
A tenant support office has been set up on site and the company assured council the building will not be knocked down before March 2021, giving tenants a significant amount of time to make alternative housing arrangements. They would also be financially compensated.
Under a proposal put forward by Boffo, tenants that have lived in the building for five years or more would receive three months rent plus a half month rent for each year beyond the five years for a total of between $3,300 to as high as $13,400.
Tenants who have lived in the building for one to five years would receive three months rent while anyone who has lived in the building for less than a year would receive one month rent.
This is "certainly not a case of throwing everybody out," Ellis said during Monday's public hearing. "There are a number of residents that are quite satisfied."
Several city councillors pushed back against assertions made by Martin they were not doing enough to ensure that low-income families were not impacted by new developments.
Mayor Richard Stewart said the city has gone to great lengths to incentivize developers to increase the amount of purpose-built rentals in their projects.
Coun. Dennis Marsden noted the city is on track to add 4,000 purpose-built rental units, replacing old units at a four-to-one rate. He also noted that while Burnaby's task force on housing has made recommendations, nothing has been approved by council and included in any formal policy.
"I haven't seen any results from it yet," he said.



Article by Gary McKenna for Tri-City News



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