The province announced new legislation on Nov. 1 allowing the construction of small multi-unit housing, including townhomes, triplexes, and laneway homes. The new legislation has sparked controversy regarding city planning, the efficacy of such measures in addressing the housing crisis, and the long-term effects of new zoning. Just last week, Mayor Mike Hurley attended the groundbreaking of new, long-term affordable housing dedicated to women and children fleeing domestic violence. According to an official press release, the new development, Cindy Beedie Place, is a partnership between BC Housing, the Beedie Foundation, the City of Burnaby, and YWCA Metro Vancouver. The province is providing approximately $40.2 million through the Building BC: Women’s Transition Housing Fund for the project and the YWCA will operate the building.
“I think we all know the housing crisis keeps deepening no matter how much work we do, but those who face the most challenges are women and children who are really struggling to find safe and affordable places to build better lives for their families,” Mayor Hurley told the Beacon.
The new housing development will include 56 new units, with 41 two-bedroom units and 15 three-bedroom units. Rent will average $700 for two-bedroom units and $780 for three-bedroom units, Hurley said. In addition, the new building will house a daycare with 37 childcare spaces. “The challenges for women to find affordable childcare are equally as tough as finding safe and affordable housing,” Hurley said. The operators of the daycare will offer the spaces first to the residents of the building, and any extra spaces will be available to the public. The development’s location at 4803 Canada Way is close to public transit and potential workplaces, he added.
While 56 units will not meet the growing demand for affordable homes in Burnaby, Hurley added, “we’re getting there, we still have a big deficit of 30 years of not doing too much when it comes to rental and affordable housing.”
Mayor Hurley also expressed concern that all the city’s hard work in meeting the demand for affordable housing might be derailed by new legislation and zoning changes the province has imposed on cities. Hurley said he is worried the new legislation will only drive prices higher.
“A single-family home, the average is $1.7 million in Burnaby. If you can build six units on that lot, will the cost of that land double, or triple? I believe it will. What does that do for affordability?” Hurley said. He added that speculators, who are the cause of the current housing crisis, will take advantage of the new rules and buy multiple lots, driving prices even higher.
“I think they mean well and that they’re trying to do the right things and make the right moves. So I’m trying not to be too negative, but I live in a reality where the rubber hits the road, and I hear from people every day,” Hurley said.
Hurley is also concerned about the pressure new zoning will place on infrastructure. He said in many parts of Burnaby, wastewater systems and pipes date back to the 1950s. When they were first built, they were suitable for the type of dwelling currently on the land. With the recent rezoning, however, there is a real risk of sewer overflows and other serious problems that can cause a public health crisis. Hurley said other infrastructure also needs to be in place to accommodate an increased need, including schools, parks and other public facilities.
“It’s not like building a Lego house, there has to be a lot of thought that goes into the infrastructure,” he said. “I’m really concerned about that piece of it. Not about building the housing; that’s OK. But who wants to live in a house where their toilet doesn’t work?”
He added that new zoning legislation may derail the entire Official Community Plan (OCP) process, which has been placed on hold as a result. The province gave the city a deadline of June 30, 2024 to adjust the OCP according to the new zoning legislation. Since getting elected, Hurley has launched a number of initiatives focused on housing in Burnaby.
“Before I ran for mayor, I saw so many people being left behind, and not being given the opportunity to succeed in our society, and the very crux of that, the very heart of that is having a safe and affordable place to live. To me, that should be a person’s right,” he told the Beacon. “I see it as critical to everyone’s life to have a home. Growing up in a family of eight kids, with a family that struggled to make ends meet, I think I have a place in my heart for that,” he added.
Lubna El Elaimy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Burnaby Beacon