New rentals vs. old rentals in Burquitlam

Cottonwood building could be torn down for 42-storey highrise and six-storey mid rise

Another Burquitlam rental building is facing the wrecking ball.

Coquitlam city council approved Monday third reading of a rezoning application that could pave the way for a 42-storey tower and a six-storey mid-rise on Cottonwood Avenue.

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The project will replace a 50-year-old apartment building, displacing tenants like Joel Dunstan, who said he and his family are unlikely to be able to afford to stay in the neighbourhood.

"The rent is high," he told Coquitlam council, flanked by his wife and son, during a public hearing Monday. "Anywhere you go, the rent is way higher than what we can truly afford as a family."

Rob Bottos, a friend of the family who also spoke at the public hearing, said the number of below-market units in the new development is not enough to replace what would be lost. He added that the city is in danger of turning Burquitlam into an enclave that excludes low-income families.

"We are creating neighbourhoods where people aren't going to be welcome anymore because they can't afford to be there," Bottos said.

But not all speakers at the hearing came out against the project.

Several people commended the developer, Anthem Properties, for offering a generous relocation package for residents displaced by the project.

Simon Taylor, a senior director with the company, said financial assistance starts at three months rental compensation, increasing to as high as 20 months depending on the length of the tenancy. Residents will also receive $500 for moving costs and are free to end their tenancy at any time without being penalized.

Taylor also noted that the new project would increase the number of purpose-built rental units from 98 in the existing building to 135 in the new development, including 20 designated as below-market, which would be administered by BC Housing.

But completion of those rental units would be years away, said Coun. Bonita Zarrillo, who was the lone vote against the project. She acknowledged that Anthem's proposal may be the right land use but said the priority should be keeping the 98 affordable housing units that currently exist on the site.

According to the developer, there are 66 empty units in the building as tenants have moved out ahead of the redevelopment. Zarrillo said if the project did not go forward, those units would be available.

"Right now, we are desperately in need of rental units that are affordable and this building has 66 units," she said, later adding: "When we are asking people in this market to leave good housing to go to housing that is way less affordable, I just think that is a travesty."

Zarrillo added that she would like to see some of the purpose-built rental currently in stream completed before more buildings get knocked down.

According to the most recent Goodman Report, which tracks development in Metro Vancouver, there are currently 3,632 rental units in 19 buildings at various stages of the development process at Coquitlam city hall. In 2019, only 102 units were completed in two buildings.

Coun. Dennis Marsden, who supported the rezoning application, said he was troubled that 66 units in the buildings were vacant, given the demand for housing. He added that the city should look at finding ways of encouraging owners to keep units occupied for as long as possible, although he acknowledged that could also present challenges.

"There is that balancing point between seeing people move out over a period of time… versus all of a sudden 98 units that were occupied need to be vacated," he said. "How do you place 98 people simultaneously? That is incredibly challenging."

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