June 23, 2015

BURNABY BC: On the evening of Tuesday June 23, on the steps of Burnaby City Hall, residents of apartments in the Metrotown area of Burnaby rallied to call for the City of Burnaby to stop demolishing their homes. The occasion was a public hearing to rezone two large three-storey walk-up apartment buildings on Silver and Beresford Avenues to accommodate a developer’s plan to build skyscraper towers in their place, displacing hundreds of tenants.

Rick McGowan, the chair of the Metrotown Residents Association explained that residents are rallying now because the two buildings on Silver Avenue are just the “tip of the iceberg of the housing demolition problem in Burnaby, already the homes of hundreds of people in 221 apartment units in the Maywood neighbourhood of Metrotown have been demolished for supersize condo towers.” He said the reason working peoples’ apartments are being replaced with high rises is because, “Higher towers equal higher profits. The City of Burnaby is stimulating the high-rise condo boom we see today.”

As the City awards greater heights and densities to developers, the relatively affordable three-storey walk-up apartments that had characterized the neighbourhood are disappearing, and with them, the working families, retired seniors, new immigrants, and low-income people who have called them home. Social Housing Alliance organizer Alexandra Henao said, “I spoke with some of the three hundred people lined up at the Metrotown foodbank last Friday. They are already barely making ends meet. Seniors who receive pensions of $1,000 a month are paying $850 a month rent and depend on the food bank to eat. The City of Burnaby is saying that these working-class migrant communities are not as important as the quick cash that comes with condo towers.”

Simon Cienfuegos, who has lived in one of the buildings facing demolition on Silver Avenue with his wife and two children for nine years, explained the importance of the area to his family. “For our children, being close to their friends and classmates makes them feel they belong to this area. This is their home! They also feel safe walking to visit a friend and invite him/her to play in the park or to do some homework,” he said. “But with the imminent eviction that now hangs over our family and the threat of being displaced from our home, we have also lost the sense of security and stability; we do not want to leave and therefore we can not help feeling that we are being outcast.”

Helen Ward, a member of the Metrotown Residents Association who ran for Burnaby City Council in 2014, explained that this rental demolition crisis is not inevitable. “Council brought in rampant speculation and resulting evictions when it voted for massive density increases in Burnaby’s four Town Centres by passing a text amendment in December 2010 without even accepting public input,” she said. “This amendment has enabled the City’s approval of dozens of towers. But the Metrotown Community Plan states that the low-rise apartments in Metrotown (also known as Maywood) ‘should be protected,’ not destroyed. When will council take action to protect the community in Metrotown?”

At the public hearing for the two sites at 6380 and 6420 Silver Avenue, both three-storey buildings, Council will decide whether to award a developer’s request for rezoning demolish 109 apartment units in two buildings to make way for two towers of 26 and 41 storeys.