July 21, 2018 5:18 pm
Updated: July 21, 2018 5:19 pm

Burnaby’s reversal on demovictions ‘no change of heart’ says mayor

The City of Burnaby has unveiled a new strategy for maintaining rental housing and keeping rents at affordable levels. But as Aaron McArthur reports, some are questioning the motives behind the plan.

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The City of Burnaby could be the first community in B.C. to make use of new provincial legislation allowing for rental-only zoning bylaws.

The move comes amid public controversy over so-called “demovictions” in the city, particularly concentrated in the Metrotown area.

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Burnaby approved a plan in 2016 to rezone the entire Metrotown neighbourhood for new towers in a bid to create a new SkyTrain accessible “downtown core,” but housing activists say thousands of units of affordable rental are being demolished to make way for the new condos.

READ MORE: No Vacancy: The face of Metrotown ‘demovictions’

At a special council meeting on Tuesday, councillors voted to send a pair of development applications from Anthem Properties back to the drawing board, with reference to the province’s new housing plan, including new zoning regulations.

“The City of Burnaby is developing an approach to align the province’s programs with future development applications, particularly those that involve re-development of existing housing stock,” states a media release from the mayor’s office.

WATCH: ‘No Vacancy:’ the face of Metrotown demovictions

The move appears to be a reversal of long-standing city position, which has been that the city’s hands are tied when it comes to restricting developers and preventing the loss of affordable rental buildings.

On Saturday, Mayor Derek Corrigan said it’s not the city that’s changed, but the province.

READ MORE: Burnaby renters call on province to stop ‘demovictions’

“No change of heart,” said Corrigan.

“There’s been a change in government. The provincial government has done what we’ve asked them to since 1990. Twenty-eight years we’ve been asking for the power to zone for rental.”

Corrigan said under previous legislation, the city couldn’t stop demolitions and that developers would have gone ahead with their plans but simply built shorter buildings with fewer, and more expensive units.

READ MORE: Demoviction protests in Burnaby apparently not enough to stop rezoning plans near Metrotown

WATCH: Burnaby demoviction protestors fight for affordable housing

He said with the new zoning rules and new funding from the province for housing, the equation has changed.

“With a co-operative partner, we’ve actually got something to tell the developers that can be done. Up to then, it was pointless. If you told the developers to get social housing, the provincial government wasn’t putting in any money and it couldn’t happen.”

Corrigan also hinted the city could look at a one-to-one replacement policy, in which every demolished unit of rental would be replaced with a new apartment at similar rents.

WATCH: Burnaby ‘demoviction’ protest comes to an end, seven demonstrators arrested

But Corrigan’s critics don’t see it the same way.

Murray Martin with housing advocacy group Acorn said Burnaby has always had the tools in its toolbox to restrict developers and control what happens with affordable housing.

“Just look at New Westminster. They’ve had zero demovictions since 2011,” said Martin.

“They’ve managed to negotiate with developers to build rental housing without needing any legislation to force them. And still, that’s not the issue. The issue is displacement. It’s not what you build here, it’s where the people go who get evicted.”

READ MORE: Housing activists decry Burnaby modular homes as a ‘drop in the bucket’

Mike Hurley, a former Burnaby firefighter who is running for mayor as an independent said the timing of council’s move is questionable.

“Three months out from an election, Mr. Corrigan is now showing real concern for these people,” Hurley said.

“It wasn’t until it looked like he was getting evicted himself that somehow now he’s showing some concern for these people, I think that’s very suspicious.”

Like Martin, Hurley argued that city hall has complete control over zoning, irrespective of the new legislation from Victoria.

Coun. Colleen Jordan said the issues of rental-only zoning and rental unit replacement will be addressed at Monday’s 7 p.m. Burnaby council meeting.

-With files from Aaron MacArthur and Jill Bennett

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