British Columbia

Development sites occupied to protest high Metro Vancouver housing costs

Advocates for affordable housing have occupied an empty apartment building in Burnaby and a lot in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and are refusing to leave.

Burnaby mayor says housing shortage has reached 'titanic proportions,' blames B.C. and federal governments

A group of housing advocates began occupying this apartment building in Burnaby, B.C., at 5025 Imperial St. on Saturday July 9, 2016, protesting the eviction of residents from affordable rentals to make way for condo towers. (CBC)

Advocates for affordable housing have occupied an empty three-story apartment building in Burnaby and a lot in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and are refusing to leave.

It's all in protest of the demolition of low cost apartment buildings, which have forced some into more desperate situations when it comes to finding appropriate shelter in a region infamous for its housing problems.

While the Burnaby protest takes aim in part at local city officials, Burnaby's mayor says there's little he can do because the B.C. government has refused to give municipalities the power to protect low-cost housing.

As a result, Derek Corrigan says the local housing shortage has reached "titanic proportions". 

Martin Fernandez used to live in one of the units at 5025 Imperial Street in Burnaby with his two sons, but was given three months notice to leave by developer Amacon. Rent for his new place is $400 more per month, at $1150.

Martin Fernandez and his two sons were evicted from the now occupied apartment building in Burnaby and have been forced to pay an additional $450 per month in rent. (CBC)

"It's made my life more difficult because now the $400 extra I have to pay, I was supposed to use for my boys ... buying clothes, toys, medicine," he said adding that one of his neighbours who was evicted was a woman in her 90s.

"Almost 100-years-old and she has nowhere to go," he said.

Kaye Bedford is with the group occupying the building and says she wants the city to come up with a plan to house people forced to leave affordable apartments in order for them to be made into condo towers.

Police have asked those occupying the building at 5025 Imperial St. to leave but have yet to make any arrests. (CBC)

"What they are currently doing right now is so wrong and they should stop doing it until they have a plan in place of what they're going to do for the current people living here and the people that have been evicted," she said.

She hasn't heard from the city but says police came by Saturday with a representative of the developer. She says officers left without making arrests.

Kaye Bedford is one of the people occupying the apartment building slated for demolition in Burnaby. She wants city council to do more to prevent what she calls 'demovictions.' (CBC)

In 2010, the city voted to dramatically increase density, especially in areas near SkyTrain stations or other transit hubs. Burnaby officials said the city needed 2,000 new units a year for the following 25 years to accommodate growth

'We can't stop demolitions'– Burnaby mayor

As for the protest at the Imperial street apartment building, Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan says his city is powerless to stop owners and developers from tearing down existing buildings to create higher cost condo towers.

"We can't stop demolitions, we don't have the legal authority to be able to stop demolitions" Corrigan tells CBC News. "Vancouver has the Vancouver charter which allows them greater powers, but for other municipalities we're not in a position to deny a demolition permit."

And Corrigan blames more senior levels of government for the growing affordable housing shortage and for tying the hands of municipalities.

"The housing shortage in Metro Vancouver has reached Titanic proportions" says Corrigan. "We asked the provincial government...repeatedly to be able to zone for rental housing, so that we'd be in a position to say 'in this area it's been traditionally rental housing, if it's replaced it should be replaced with rental housing'. But the provincial government has refused to do that for, oh, probably the last 10 years."

The protestors at the Burnaby building slated for demolition say they plan to stay.

The occupation is the second in Metro Vancouver, as, at the conclusion of an affordable housing rally in the DTES Saturday, protesters put down tents at 58 West Hastings, an empty lot where the Olympic Tent Village was during the 2010 Winter Games.

Residents in Vancouver's DTES held a rally on Saturday, July 9, 2016 to "demand action from all levels of government to create safe, secure, and dignified housing for all." (CBC)

"​These coordinated occupations show that the housing and homelessness crisis is not just a matter of the so-called 'street homeless,'" said the two groups called the Alliance Against Displacement in a release.

"We are calling out for homeless and evicted people to join these occupations, take them back from development corporations, and transform them from protests to spaces of survival, safety, and community."​

At the conclusion of a rally for housing in Vancouver's DTES, protesters occupied the empty lot at 58 West Hastings to show that homelessness is not simply taking place at the street level in Vancouver. (CBC)

Meanwhile for its part, the City of Vancouver has been pushing hard to implement a tax on empty homes, create new rentals and an affordable home ownership program, as well as build the city's first community land trust and address the impact AirBnB is having on rentals in the city.