Burnaby city council finally buckled under pressure from citizens angry about demovictions. Or they made another step in an ongoing effort to create more affordable housing in the city.
Those are the two narratives competing to explain an unexpected twist in local politics this week.
On Monday, council pulled two proposals — a 34-storey high-rise on Barker Avenue and a 24-storey building on Marlborough Avenue — from a public hearing scheduled the next evening. Coun. Colleen Jordan said she made a motion to rescind the items because she wants the developers to explore options to include non-market rental housing in their plans.
Murray Martin, a housing activist with ACORN who has led much of the fight against demovictions, didn’t accept Jordan’s explanation.
“They finally blinked,” he said at a rally in front of city hall before Tuesday’s hearing that had been planned before the items were taken off the agenda. “This would have been a record night.”
Martin said he expected Tuesday’s hearing to eclipse a May hearing where many people berated Mayor Derek Corrigan and his fellow Burnaby Citizens Association councillors for going ahead with three other demoviction plans.
With an election on the horizon this fall and opposition candidates already putting demovictions at the forefront of their campaigns, Martin believes council was afraid of the optics of yet another long night of criticism.
He said he would have presented more than 400 submissions from Metrotown residents opposed to the rezoning requests.
The potential for affordable rental units being included in future proposals for the Marlborough and Barker developments doesn’t change the fact it would mean displacing many longtime residents who would be forced to pay higher rents elsewhere or face homelessness, Martin said.
“They’re taking a mud pie and they’re putting icing on it,” he said.
But a press release sent out by Corrigan’s office Tuesday afternoon paints a different picture.
The city is “seeking a made-in-Burnaby approach to affordable housing that effectively leverages new provincial housing policies, programs and supports,” the release states.
At a June 11 meeting, council sent four other proposals back to applicants asking them to look into partnering with the province to include affordable housing.
“We will continue to ask developers to look at the non-market housing programs available and work with them as we learn more about the province’s new affordable housing programs,” reads the city release.
On Monday, Coun. Colleen Jordan told the NOW the new approach from the city is the result of a more cooperative NDP government in Victoria. She said the city is still trying to understand what housing funds and programs are available from both provincial and federal governments.
Green Party mayoral candidate Joe Keithley was among the approximately 40 people at Tuesday’s rally.
“This is pressure on the city council that, you know what? Derek Corrigan, Colleen Jordan (and) all the rest of them are wrong – you have to care about people,” Keithley said.
On Monday, Keithley released his party’s housing platform, which includes a promise to put a moratorium on demovictions in Metrotown.
The accompanying press release said Keithley would be at city hall for media availability that night, but he didn’t show up.
Keithley said he thought the availability was scheduled for Tuesday night at the rally.
He said there was a miscommunication between himself and the person who wrote the release. The confusion should not put into question his ability to serve as mayor, he said.
“I think it was one mistake and it won’t happen again,” he said.
Retired firefighter Mike Hurley, who declared his long-rumoured run for the mayor’s chair on Tuesday, stopped short of promising a demoviction moratorium. He said he would impose one if possible, but existing city contracts may bar him from doing so.
The union representing many City of Burnaby employees joined the call for a moratorium this week. Simon Challenger, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees local 23, said his union’s members voted to defy council in a close vote.
He said it was the first time the union’s members voted to defy the Burnaby Citizens Association, which has been in power for three decades. But, he said, that doesn’t change their overall support for the party.
In a striking break from tradition, the New Westminster & District Labout council, which is based in Burnaby, voted to endorse Hurley for mayor on Wednesday evening.