Affordable housing advocates oppose razing Burnaby rentals for condo development

Dozens of housing advocates gave Burnaby council members an earful at a public hearing Tuesday night, speaking out against the loss of affordable rental units to make way for a proposed condo development.

UBC sociologist Nathan Lauster says clustering densification in specific neighbourhoods can be problematic

Dozens of housing advocates gave Burnaby council members an earful at a public hearing Tuesday night, speaking out against the loss of affordable rental units to make way for a proposed condo development.

"I think it's devastating the amount of destruction that the City of Burnaby is causing to this neighbourhood and to the low-income working class renters who live there," said Zoe Luba, an activist with Stop Demovictions Burnaby and the Alliance Against Displacement.

Plans for the proposed 32-storey tower at Maywood Park include 298 condos and an expanded park in the Metrotown area.

The neighbourhood is one of a nine "regional city centres" the city has slated for transit-centred densification as part of an official community plan that council approved last summer.

To make way for the tower, six single-family houses will be demolished. Also, two low-rise rental buildings with a total of 31 apartments will be razed to expand nearby Maywood Park. 

Luba says the units in the buildings rent for less than $1,000 a month — a deal for a city where one-bedroom apartments now average more than $1,400. She says it's unfair for the city to evict the low-income renters there to make way for high-end condos.  

"They don't care about the neighbourhood.They don't care at all about the low-income people there who are going to lose their home, their community," Luba said. "It's a crisis that needs to be fought every step of the way."

Non-market rental units on the way

Luba said the proposed rezoning is just one of many projects over the last few years that have displaced renters in low and mid-rise buildings to make way for taller condos.

She would like to see the city build more affordable rental housing instead. 

But Coun. Colleen Jordan said the city is working towards replacing lost low-cost rental housing with 981 non-market units that are either already built, under construction or in process — including 124 units in the Maywood area.

Jordan said there are also nearly 2,000 market rental units under construction in Burnaby, and the city is "pursuing additional opportunities" with the province on other potential projects. 

Furthermore, Jordan said, the city will work with housing providers to find homes for the renters who will be displaced to make way for the high-rise project. 

'Sharing the burden of densification'

Nathan Lauster, a UBC  sociologist and author of The Death and Life of the Single Family Home, says building town centres around transit hubs is generally a well-accepted urban planning practice. 

But he warns that the practice can be problematic — especially when those town centres replace low-cost, low-rise rental buildings with higher density highrises.

"It tends to pit existing core residents, who are often poorer renters, against new residents," he said. 

Lauster said town centres can also become an issue when they're created mainly to protect single-family residential zones. 

"If you enable low or mid densification across the city, which is what a lot of people suggest we should be doing … then you're really sharing the burden of densification," Lauster said. 

The proposed development still needs to go through a second and third reading before council members make their decision. 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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