On Monday May 16th the Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign presented its report on the demovictions crisis in Metrotown before Burnaby City Council. The report, called “A Community Under Attack,” is a social impact study that documents the harsh effects of displacement on renters in the apartment buildings on the block northeast of Dunblane and Imperial. The full report is now available to download as a pdf here.
A group of two dozen people rallied before the City Council meeting in support of the fight against demovictions and displacement. Toshi Leung stirred up the crowd with chants of “Stop Displacement, Stop Demovictions” and “Burnaby renters under attack, what do we do, Stand up Fight back.” Then people talked about their own experiences of displacement.
Kaye Bedford, who fought against the rezoning of her building on Silver Ave, saw the writing on the wall and moved out of the city before an eviction notice was posted to her door. “If you think it’s easy finding a decent place to rent, you are mistaken. It’s really hard; vacancy rates are so low.”
Martin Fernandez received an eviction notice for June 30th. His building is one of three that are being demovicted by corporate developer Amacon in order to build a 30 storey condo tower. Martin said, “We should ask the government what’s going on? Why are they doing this? Are they for us or against us?”
Monica Zakrzewska lives in an apartment building on Dunblane. She is worried about what’s going to happen to her building. “I’m so afraid,” she said; “I don’t know if my building will be next, and where I will go. It seems everything is about money.”
Murray Martin from ACORN was critical of Burnaby’s Mayor and Council. “They are completely out of touch; they represent property owners and developers. They don’t represent working class people or the poor or the homeless. They want the homeless out of the city. It is a travesty.”
At 7pm the group filed into City Council Chambers for the presentation of the demovictions report. But first there was a delegation seeking support for a campaign to ban blood and plasma donations for pay. After the 10 minute presentation, city council engaged the presenter for 30 minutes with questions, comments and a motion of support. The Stop Demovictions Burnaby Campaign presentation was next.
Astrid Castaneda and Dave Diewert presented the major findings and recommendations of the report, which was based on a door-to-door survey of about thirty percent of the 206 households in fifteen apartment buildings being demovicted from the square block north-east of Dunblane and Imperial Streets in Metrotown. The survey found that:
- Demovictions are a significant problem affecting thousands of people: About 73% of apartments were one-bedrooms but 28% of units had three or four occupants. There was an average of two people per apartment overall, which means nearly five hundred people will lose their homes in the Dunblane demovictions. Currently, in Metrotown there are 684 apartment units scheduled to be demolished, taking away the homes of approximately 1,400 people.
- More than half of those demovicted are being pushed into serious crisis: The survey found that 55% of tenants pay more than 30% of their incomes to rent, which is an indicator of being at-risk of homelessness. About one-quarter of residents have only lived in their apartment for one or two years, and they tended to come from other demolished or renovicted buildings, representing a large group of insecure and perpetually uprooted renters. One quarter are long-term residents who have lived in their apartments for five to ten years. They tend to be seniors or low-income people on pensions or disability who pay lower-than market rents and will be particularly hard-hit by a forced move into a much more expensive housing market.
- Burnaby demovictions are creating hidden homelessness: Those evicted residents who had found a new place in the Metrotown area were going to be paying 25% more for rent (about $250 more per month). But 62% of those who had received eviction notices had still not found a place to go with only two or three weeks to eviction-day. Their plans tended to resemble versions of homelessness: crashing on friends’ couches, living in a camper, moving in with family or with a partner with who they would otherwise not cohabitate. Long-term residents tied their hopes to BC Housing applications that they planned to file; a futile plan in a province with ten-year long waitlists for social housing.
- Burnaby’s eviction-support programs are not working: Not one single person reported receiving support, a visit, or any contact from representatives of the City of Burnaby, an advocate, or service provider. The City’s existing programs are financial eviction compensation and rehousing support. Twenty-three percent of those who had received formal eviction notices had not received compensation, saying the landlord told them they did not qualify. Many more did not receive compensation because they left before receiving official notice (three months before eviction) did therefore not qualify for compensation. Tenant support consisted only of the developer posting print-outs of Craigslist ads in the lobby of buildings and, in two cases, offering residents apartments in other buildings owned by the same company, which were more expensive and either far away or also scheduled to be demolished.
The Community Under Attack report’s recommendations for city action are four priorities:
Priority 1: Stop all demovictions immediately. To do this Council should declare a moratorium on rezoning properties currently used as residential rentals.
Priority 2: Find housing for those who have been displaced by demovictions with city-funded housing outreach, support, and advocacy programs and by using city money to buy a building for emergency housing.
Priority 3: Cancel Council’s proposed “downtown” Metrotown plan and begin a community planning process that involves current residents most vulnerable to displacement.
Priority 4: Dedicate existing City-owned lands for social housing and use this declaration to advocate for Provincial and Federal participation in building and operating social housing affordable to people on welfare and pension.
Immediately after the 10 minute presentation, Mayor Corrigan said “Thanks for the report, we’ll send it to staff for their consideration, and they will engage Council in a conversation and a report will be issued, which we’ll pass along to you.”
One of the presenters, Dave Diewert exclaimed in the hall outside council chambers afterwards, “That was it? We tried to push for comments, questions, or discussion, wanting to provoke an engagement of some kind, but there was nothing. Corrigan and Council don’t seem to care that their policies are making renters homeless in Metrotown.” Gesturing at the group gathered, dejected outside council chambers he said, “We are outraged at council’s indifference to our report. It’s the same attitude they have toward the people they are displacing.”
Astrid Castaneda, another presenter and researcher of the Community Under Attack report, said “Council’s response felt disrespectful of the work, commitment and concerns of the people who are being demovicted. We did this survey and wrote this report to show what is happening in our community. We are being pushed out. Our health is being harmed.”
Dave Diewert said, “Tonight was a show of utter contempt by Burnaby’s official political leadership towards the people whose well-being it should be most concerned about. It has abandoned low-income and working class residents to curry the favour of corporate developers and property owners. City Hall should be the next to experience demoviction.”