Evergreen Line threatens affordable housing in Coquitlam, Port Moody

Sandy Burpee, shown here in this file photo from a count of homeless people in the Tri-Cities, says it
Sandy Burpee, shown here in this file photo from a count of homeless people in the Tri-Cities, says it's time to act to protect affordable housing stock as the Evergreen Line moves into Coquitlam and Port Moody.
— image credit: FILE PHOTO

A group tasked with the job of helping homeless people find shelter will now shift its attention to the issue of affordable housing as the Evergreen Line threatens to lay waste to apartments across the region.

Tri-Cities Homelessness Task Group chair Sandy Burpee said the homeless issue hasn't gone away but the potential loss of affordable housing due to redevelopment could create more homeless and make living here out of reach for low and moderate income families.

"The development of the Evergreen Line puts pressure on older low-rise rental housing in Coquitlam and Port Moody. That provides us with something to focus on," Burpee said in an interview this week with the Tri-City News.

He noted that a temporary Bridge shelter at a Port Coquitlam church and the scheduled opening of a permanent shelter and transition housing at 3030 Gordon in Coquitlam in 2014 will tackle the immediate issue of homelessness and, with the cities now solidly behind solutions to homelessness and the public more aware of the issue, it's time to shed light on the equally important issue of affordable housing and seek some solutions, Burpee said.

The group, which includes city planners, politicians, non-profit agencies and government representatives, hopes to engage developers and government in discussions about ways to enhance the region's stock of of affordable housing to prevent future homelessness. "The question comes up if you're providing services for homeless on the streets how are you moving to prevent homelessness," said Burpee.

Already one neighbourhood is seeing pressure from development. Burquitlam is undergoing a transformation and low rise properties are at risk of redevelopment, Burpee said. He'd like to see developers join the task group to get their perspective and sees the newly renamed Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group lobbying government for policies and incentives to encourage the development of rental housing. Among the ideas being tossed about are tax incentives for building affordable housing and policies to protect renters from displacement.

In July, 12 three-storey apartment buildings known as Whitgift Gardens at 550 Cottonwood in Coquitlam were purchased by Concert Properties. A letter to residents said there are no plans to make changes and Concert Properties already owns and manages other rental apartments in Toronto and Vancouver. But the company also builds new condominiums. A Concert spokesperson was unavailable to comment by press time, but the task group makes the case that owning a condominium is out of reach of many and shouldn't be the only type of housing available.

According to a press release issued by the task group, the cost of housing stretches many household budgets and, as a result, families have less money to spend on childcare, food, clothing and transportation.

In 2011, annual household income of over $39,000 was required to rent a two bedroom purpose-built apartment, according to statistics compiled by the group, but 39% of renters or 6,335 households in the Tri-Cities had a household income of less than $30,000 (2006 Census). As many as 1,675 renter households are spending more than half of their income on shelter costs.

A condominium purchase, meanwhile, requires a minimum annual household income of $70,000, out of reach for many, the press release notes.

However, Burpee is optimistic that planning will prevent many of the downsides of transit-oriented re-development, especially now in Coquitlam, where where development applications are coming in daily.

"The city is quite aware that this is gong to be a challenging issue and they're getting on top of it."


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