The City of Burnaby has proposed some of the most aggressive measures in Canada to ensure that renters displaced by the waves of development hitting cities can stay in their communities.
The proposal would require developers to subsidize higher rents tenants might have to pay when they move out temporarily during construction of a new building and a guarantee that the tenants can move into the new building at the same rates they were paying before.
Some critics worry that the policy, which would require developers to subsidize replacement apartments for months or years before a rezoning is approved, would kill rental projects. The suburb east of Vancouver where vacancy is near zero is trying to add much-needed units.
Critics also worry the measures could make it difficult for developers to build new properties.
The proposal, put forward by a new housing task force that includes the mayor and the city’s planning director, will be pitched to the public and council this week.
“We think it’s the right balance so we can keep our work force in our city,” Mayor Mike Hurley said.
The aim is to take a different approach from the one Vancouver uses that pays people to go away when their buildings get demolished for redevelopment.
Instead, Burnaby’s task force is suggesting a system that allows people to stay in the city at the same rent they were paying before their building got torn down.
“That allows for Burnaby to remain socio-economically diverse, which makes a community what it is,” said the city’s top planner, Ed Kozak.
But developers are wary about the change, saying they support more compensation for tenants but see some problems with the details.
“We are concerned with the city’s proposal to apply the tenant assistance policy at the time of rezoning application, when municipal approvals can take up to four years, with no guarantee the project is endorsed by council," Urban Development Institute chief executive Anne McMullin said. "As well, market changes, interest rates and property taxes may also cause a project to become unviable during that time frame.”
Housing advocates see the proposal as an important improvement in an era where many cities are seeing massive redevelopment of cheap older apartments into new towers.
“The policy didn’t want a focus just on compensating people to leave but on paying to ensure they can stay,” said Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. He was one of the members of the housing task force that came up with the policy.
Mr. Armstrong, like others, was surprised when city staff decided to go beyond the task force recommendations by insisting on an even bigger rent subsidy for displaced tenants.
“I’m very excited about this policy, which went even a little bit farther than our recommendations,” said Dan Tetrault, a vice-president of the Burnaby Teachers’ Association, who also sat on the task force.
Burnaby teachers have been alarmed about the impacts of the rising cost of housing in their city, along with policies of previous councils that allowed massive demolitions of older apartments with minimal compensation to tenants.
“It had a big impact on the families of the children we were teaching,” said Mr. Tetrault, whose organization was so alarmed by the situation that, in the October, 2018, civic election, members endorsed Mr. Hurley for mayor because of his promises for changes to housing policy.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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