British Columbia

Burnaby council floats huge reforms to rental housing policy

The City of Burnaby may soon have a brand new rental policy that has no comparison in Metro Vancouver.

Would ensure at least 20 per cent of new buildings are rental units

Burnaby city council's new rental housing policy will go to a public hearing before final approval. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

The City of Burnaby may soon have a brand new rental policy that has no comparison in Metro Vancouver.

Council agreed unanimously to have staff create a number of amendments to the city's zoning bylaw which will be presented at a public hearing before a final vote.

Among the proposed changes are requirements that all new mixed-used developments have at least 20 per cent rental units, ensuring renters evicted from demolished apartments are given the opportunity to return to the new building at the same rental rates. It would also rezone all existing purpose-built rental developments in the city as rental-only zoning. 

Coun. Pietro Calendino, who introduced the motion, said Burnaby was the first jurisdiction in Metro Vancouver "to embark on this ambitious housing policy. ​​​​"

"This is a very bold step in addressing the rental housing crisis," he said. 

"I think it will definitely have a positive impact on the supply of rental housing of all types … in the years to come. And it will also bring fairness, security and affordability for renters."

"It's all been very positive in our community," said Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley, who won election last October on a campaign centred around stopping the demolition of older rental apartments in the city's centre to make way for condos. 

"Our development community has a bit of concerns with it, but we believe we've struck the right balance with it."  

Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley won election in October 2018 on a campaign centred around stopping 'demovictions' in the municipality. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Landlord advocacy group critical 

However, an advocacy groups for landlords in the province believes a balance hasn't been struck.

"It's encouraging that city is trying to alleviate the situation that exists there, and needless to say what happened under the previous regime ... was not a particularly good outcome," said David Hutniak, CEO of the non-profit advocacy group Landlord B.C. 

"[But] they really need to take a harder look at the economics and the numbers, and what they're proposing here."

Hutniak said forcing all new buildings to have rental units — and all residents 'demovicted' from old apartments to be offered homes in new developments at the same rate they previous paid — would put a freeze on new projects.

"Everyone is is rightfully concerned about the aging rental stock and displacement of renters ... but the fallout from this has been basically a reaction on only one side of the equation here," he said. 

"The bottom line is that we have persistently low vacancy rates. And if we don't build more supply we are going to continue to have persistently low vacancy rates."   

Advocates for residents of low-cost rentals in Burnaby want to stop affordable housing from being torn down to make way for luxury towers. (Belle Puri/CBC)

Tenant advocacy group supportive 

In a statement, one of the organizations most critical of the city's previous housing strategy said the new policy was "a good start."

"This is light years away from the destruction and displacement mindset that was happening under [former mayor Derek] Corrigan," said Burnaby ACORN spokesperson Murray Martin. 

"While we are thankful for that, the legacy ... is going to be very difficult to fix."

The city will also continue its separate mayoral task force — which provided an interim report earlier this month — with additional recommendations for changes to Burnaby's housing policy expected this summer. 

"Initially when we started this [process], people said 'when you're first, it's going to fail,'" said Coun. Colleen Jordan.

"But I think our staff and council have accepted the challenge, and I think we have something that won't fail, and will serve us well into the future." 

With files from Andrea Ross

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