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British Columbia Housing activists urge city to halt Burnaby condo complex

Condos in the Gilmore area of Burnaby are seen in the distance behind houses in east Vancouver, B.C. in this file photo. The Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign has protested plans to knock down affordable housing units in the Burnaby’s Metrotown area to build condo towers, which the group says will displace as many as 6,000 people

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

A housing advocacy group says the City of Burnaby should cancel plans to demolish affordable housing in favour of new condos and instead focus on creating thousands of rental units for low-income residents.

The Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign has protested plans to knock down affordable housing units in the city's Metrotown area to build condo towers, which the group says will displace as many as 6,000 people who will not be able to live in the new developments.

Activists have been raising the alarm over the Burnaby developments for more than a year; in January, a group of protesters occupied an empty apartment building for 12 days before they were removed and arrested. The Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign says the city's current plans will displace people living in 3,000 units, while making the city's already unaffordable housing situation worse.

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The local government wants to turn the Metrotown area into the centre of the city, adding density to accommodate population growth in Burnaby. But the campaign claimed the city's plan will replace 3,000 affordable rental units of three-storey apartment buildings in Metrotown area with pricey high rises.

The group has produced its own housing plan for the neighbourhood, calling for the city to create 19,000 new units by replacing existing single-detached homes on several major traffic corridors with non-market rental housing while also converting existing apartments to social housing. The group says tenants in the existing affordable housing units should be given priority.

Zoe Luba, of the Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign, said the group created the plan to demonstrate there's an alternative to what the city is proposing – which she said amounts to massive displacement. She said housing can be accessible for workers, newly arrived immigrants, refugees, single-parent families, seniors and young people.

"The community of Metrotown is a diverse welcoming [neighbourhood] that shouldn't be displaced for wealthier residents to move in," Ms. Luba said.

The group says the city should use money generated from building and rezoning permits to build affordable housing while also seeking money from the provincial and federal governments.

The City of Burnaby did not respond to requests for comment. Mayor Derek Corrigan has previously defended its plans for the Metrotown area, arguing the buildings that are currently there are at the end of their life and the city needs to create new housing to deal with growth.

The city has also said it's up to the provincial and federal governments to tackle affordable housing.

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Urban planner Andy Yan, the director of Simon Fraser University's city program, said the concern over the loss of housing is fuelled by the speed and size of changes in the city.

"In a face of a very hot real estate market for market condominiums in the area, it's really up to the council to balance the rate of change and its stock of affordable rentals," Mr. Yan said.

Mr. Yan also pointed out that the rezoning plan proposed by the campaign is complicated, because many single homes are actually rentals. "You need to look carefully at what is the stock that you are replacing and what you're replacing it with," Mr. Yan said.

Ms. Luba acknowledged the city won't adopt the housing proposal. She said the group is preparing to expand its civil disobedience campaign.

"We are going to move into more of an organizing drive of the neighbourhood and push for more people to fight unjust laws with the power they have as residents of Metrotown," she said.

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