In November 2019, Stop Demovictions Burnaby organized a rally against the mass rezoning of hundreds of affordable rental units in Metrotown. This rally took place on the unceded and occupied Coast Salish territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh nations.

After a year-long moratorium on demovictions, developers are back in Metrotown. On Tuesday, November 19 2019, Burnaby City Council will hear rezoning applications for eight buildings, which developers want to demolish and replace with high-rises from 34- to 43-storeys tall. The buildings on the chopping block include 4960 Bennett Street, 6525 Telford Ave, 6444 Willingdon, 4241 Maywood St, and four buildings on Marlborough Ave (6556/66/80/96).

According to Zhandong, who has lived at 6444 Willingdon for the past 14 years, developers don’t care about tenants. “The prices are skyrocketing and we live in fear of becoming homeless. Developers just want to work with the government, not with us.” With nowhere to move until the new buildings are ready to go, tenants are promised to enter a new circle of displacement.

All four developer projects promised new rental apartments for displaced tenants following the Housing Task Force’s recommendation of a one-to-one replacement plan for people evicted due to demolition. But the one to one replacement plan has not been voted into law so presently there is no legal obligation for developers, or Burnaby’s municipal government, to find people new homes.

Residents of Metrotown and supporters will rally to speak at the public hearing, demanding once again for:

  • People before profit: People’s lives and well being are given a higher priority than developers’ profits;

  • Placement before displacement: No eviction notice be sent until every tenant has access to a stable, adequate unit in the same neighbourhood for the same price they currently pay; and
  • Standards of maintenance: The City of Burnaby introduce a standards of maintenance bylaw, forcing owners to keep taking care of buildings.

Mayor Mike Hurley was elected on the coattails of Metrotown residents, who have fought tirelessly to save their homes and neighbourhood. Will Hurley follow the path of the infamous former mayor Derek Corrigan, who made Metrotown the epicentre of the demoviction crisis, or will he listen to the people?

Throughout the five hour long public hearing, people pushed back against Hurley’s narrative that Burnaby tenants are the best taken care of in the country by talking about their fear of losing their homes, connection to the community and livelihood if they were to be demovicted. Every person speaking to council opposed the rezonings, demanding that no project be given approval until all the recommendations from the housing task force be officially bylaw, and addressed the pitfalls of the laws which – even if voted – would not prevent people’s displacement.
Following this rally, we held a public townhall to discuss the next steps of the campaign.

The mobilization of renters in Metrotown over the past 5 years has forced the City of Burnaby to try to address the crisis of demovictions. The result is a new Tenant Assistance Policy (TAP) that aims to assist displaced tenants during and after the process of redevelopment. But does this policy resolve the threat of eviction that renters in Burnaby and across the region constantly face? Does it address the roots of the housing crisis? Not at all! The tenants present at the townhall decided to push towards a new campaign of renters against the market.

When housing is a commodity that is bought and sold in the market for profit, renters will always face the threat of displacement, through renovictions, demovictions and being forced to pay rent beyond our means. We need housing outside the logic and material forces of the market — housing that meets the needs of working class renters, not the profit margins of bankers, developers, investors, and landlords. We need housing that is affordable (rent geared to income), secure (stay as long as we want), adequate (in size and location), and dignified (well-built and maintained, tenant controlled).

Five month later, Burnaby City Hall sent a report to all the people who spoke during the public hearing. Failing to address the main concerns brought by tenants, the permanent destruction of their affordable homes, the report outlined that “the goal of [the city’s] policy stream is to increase the supply of market and non-market housing to assist with rental housing availability and affordability”. But the last “non-market” housing building built in Burnaby was renting for over $1300 for one bedroom. And as long as housing tied to a capitalist market based on stolen Indigenous lands, Indigenous and working class tenants will face displacement and evictions.

The fight for housing justice continues! More news articles on the rally here and here.