Burnaby Now: Residents, housing advocates speak out against highrise rezoning application at public hearing

Posted November 25, 2016

In what has become a familiar scene at city hall, dozens of residents packed council chambers to oppose a rezoning application that would spell the end to four more older rental buildings in Metrotown.
On the agenda at a public hearing Tuesday night was an application by the IBI Group to redevelop four addresses in the Metrotown area, 6695 Dunblane Ave., and 4909, 4929, and 4971 Imperial Street into a 36-storey apartment building.
If approved, a total of 84 units of rental housing between four buildings would be demolished.
And council got an earful from both residents living in the area and housing activists who oppose the rezoning application, as part of an ongoing fight with the city over demovictions in the area.
Natasha Saunders-Kay told council she recently moved to the neighbourhood from Vancouver and lives in fear every day that her rental building will be the next to be demolished.  
“What a blow to move here and spend the energy and effort building a community only to find we’re not wanted here either,” she said, urging council to put themselves in “her shoes.”
“Please don’t forget we’re your citizens, we have nowhere to go.”
Other residents asked council to say no to the project.
“I think we need to pause,” Leila Lolua, a resident of the neighbourhood told council. She suggested until there are more places for the people being displaced to live, the city needs to stop the rezoning.
Lolua also told council it was “wrong” to displace people, adding there are no places for them to go.
Dave Neufeld, a Metrotown resident and member of ACORN ((Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), a group opposed to the rezoning of older buildings in the area, asked council as a sign of good faith, to stop this particular rezoning. A day prior, members of ACORN agreed to meet with the mayor over the Metrotown Development Plan.
“Give us a glimmer of hope that council is listening and will step to the plate, and then you’re going to find the doors are going to open and we can have a discussion,” he said.
Members of the Stop Demovictions Burnaby campaign also spoke out against the rezoning proposal.
David Diewert, a member of the group, noted 16 buildings totalling 227 units in one block have been demolished, calling the situation “social cleansing” of low income renters for higher income residents to own.
“City council needs to reject the immediate rezoning application, tear up the current Metrotown plan update and prioritize the needs and the lives of current residents caught in the grip of a housing and displacement crisis,” he said.
The rezoning application is expected to be back in front of council for the second reading at a future date. 
Following the public hearing, Mayor Derek Corrigan defended the city against the criticism. He pointed out at the same public hearing, 145 units of non-profit seniors housing was also being put forward by Fairhaven United Church on Rumble Street, while rezoning applications for another 1,100 new purpose-built rental units came to council on Monday.    
“The city is doing a lot of different things out there whether it’s Edmonds, or it’s the properties that have been released, or working with Fairhaven to create different types of housing, whether it’s rental or social housing on a consistent basis,” he told the NOW on Thursday.
But he added there are limited funds available from the provincial and federal governments to make those types of projects work.
Corrigan also suggested the buildings being rezoned have reached the end of their life and are not economically sustainable anymore.
“If you’re being fair, you look at the reality of change in our community and you see that whether you’re taking down old social housing and replacing it with much more dense housing, or there is market housing that’s coming down and has reached the end of its life and it’s being replaced with new and more dense housing, it’s part of the evolution of a community, but it doesn’t mean it’s without pain or without difficulty,” he said, noting 40,000 people are moving to Metro Vancouver every year.
He said the question for council is when developers are going to tear down older buildings, does the city get the additional density around SkyTrain station that will allow city to accept the growth.
Article by Jeremy Deutsch for Burnaby Now