Now that Burnaby has elected a new mayor, residents like Mohammad Yasin are feeling hopeful and watching to make sure mayor-elect Mike Hurley lives up to his promise and stops the future demolition of rental buildings in the city.
Yasin lives in an aging three-storey walkup in south Burnaby with his wife and three kids. Losing his home is what he fears the most in a neighbourhood where demovictions emerged as one of the key issues in the election that resulted in the demise Mayor Derek Corrigan’s career in city hall.
“When they demolish these buildings and build high-rises in their space, it is clear the rent and price of the new units are much higher than the old buildings and low-income families cannot afford to live in those condos,” Yasin said in Dari/Farsi.
According to statistics by the housing advocacy group Acorn B.C., 769 units in three-storey walkups have been demolished in the Metrotown area since 2011 to clear space for the construction of high-rise buildings.
The same organization shows 893 other such rental units are in the process of demolition. Renters end up being forced to go elsewhere to try to find the kind of low-priced apartments Burnaby used to have in abundance.
Demovictions ‘nothing short of cruel’
Hurley, a retired firefighter, ended Corrigan’s three-decade political career in city hall when he won the city’s mayoral race Saturday night.
Affordable housing, stopping demovictions in Burnaby’s Metrotown neighbourhood, and putting in place a moratorium for new projects were Hurley’s key promises during the election campaign. He referred to the demovictions in Metrotown as “nothing short of cruel.”
At his victory party on Saturday night, the mayor-elect called the housing issue “first in my agenda [that] I have talked about all the way through.”
Hurley, a Burnaby resident for 30 years, says he plans to address the city’s housing crisis by creating a task force of affordability experts and possibly leasing lands to groups that are interested in building affordable houses.
“We own lots of lands, and we can lease some of that land to groups who are willing to build things like co-op and low-cost housing,” Hurley said.
But working with toppled mayor Corrigan’s Burnaby Citizen Association, which won the majority of the city council seats in the election, could be a challenge for the independent mayor-elect.
As well, a moratorium on future demovictions won’t help voters like Peter Pasanen, 72, who was demovicted two years ago and now pays $300 more in monthly rent for his new home elsewhere in Burnaby.
Still, he said the issues of demovictions and housing were key factors in deciding who to vote for.
“I’m concerned about my grandchildren. Right now, they are not going to afford to live in these million-dollar units,” Pasanen said.
Burnaby is one of the many cities struggling with affordability crisis in Metro Vancouver. According to the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, the city ranks 520th out of 522 Canadian municipalities in terms of housing and affordability.