BURNABY councillors on Monday voted seven to two in favour of a rezoning application brought forward by the B.C. General Employees Union (BCGEU) that had the potential to offer a new model for tackling housing affordability.
“Our union has been working on this project for more than two years,” said BCGEU President Stephanie Smith on Tuesday. “This vote is a major milestone that brings us one step closer to making our project a reality and we are deeply grateful to Mayor [Mike] Hurley and councillors [Pietro] Calendino, [Sav] Dhaliwal, [Alison] Gu, [Mike] Hillman, [Joe] Keithley and [James] Wang for their leadership in supporting our vision.”
The project is located on Palm Avenue in a mixed use area north of Royal Oak Skytrain station. The union’s plan is to develop a multi-use building with 292 units of housing—at least 50% at below-market affordable rates—as well as a 49-space childcare facility and new office space for the union. The proposal incorporates key design elements based on feedback from the city planning department including an expanded traffic study that ensured the project would not negatively impact existing residents.
The project received overwhelming support at a public hearing on March 29, with 45 residents showing up in person or on Zoom to speak in favour, and hundreds more sending letters of support to council.
“For the BCGEU, this project was driven by the vision of our membership,” said Smith. “It’s an opportunity to give back to a community we have been a part of for over 50 years. It’s a chance to make real progress on affordable housing—an issue we have been actively engaged in for a long time. And Burnaby residents sent a clear message to council at the public hearing: they want to live in a progressive, affordable, inclusive city and they see projects like ours as the way to get there.”
The BCGEU’s rationale for the project stemmed from concerns that housing costs are far outpacing wage increases labour unions can bargain for. BCGEU members have passed multiple convention resolutions calling for their union to take action on housing affordability.
“Our union outlined the case for building affordable housing adjacent to major transit hubs as far back as 2014, and we are pleased today to take a step forward to implement our vision to provide a new area office for our members, and affordable housing and childcare for the community,” said BCGEU Treasurer and Affordable BC campaign report co-author Paul Finch, who is leading the project. “This project leverages the increase in land value from upzoning to deliver more affordable housing, a policy we hope will be emulated by other municipalities across BC. We believe this model can be replicated by other unions, non-profits and faith groups to provide urgently needed housing starts amidst the current affordability crisis.”
Facts about the project:
- The chosen location near Royal Oak Skytrain aims to align with Burnaby’s 2019 Mayor’s Task Force on Community Housing recommendations, which explicitly called for density around Skytrain stations/transit and building homes for working families with the maximum number of affordable units possible. The project includes significant 2-3 bedroom units for families.
- Affordable rents will be commensurate with working-class wages, with the highest monthly rental cost for affordable units being 80% of CMHC market rates for the local market.
In addition to the rezoning with the City of Burnaby, the union engages advocacy for stronger housing policies through its Affordable BC campaign, and shareholder engagement on the financialization of housing with proposals and commitments from some of Canada’s largest chartered banks.
Read the Backgrounder on the project here.
Read the Affordable BC Plan here: https://www.affordablebc.ca/